A businessman -- and Gadhafi associate -- who was convicted in a 2007 prostitution ring bust reveals all the dirty secrets of how models (and even some Hollywood actresses) swarm the hotels and yacht parties during the fest: says one escort, it's "the biggest payday of the year."
Like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Sharon Stone, Lebanese businessman Elie Nahas was once a regular at the Cannes Film Festival. But since his bust in 2007 for his part in the most explosive prostitution scandal in the history of the festival, Nahas, 48, can't leave his native Lebanon. He hopes that his eight-year prison sentence, slapped on him in absentia by a French judge after a trial in Marseilles in October, will be overturned on appeal this year, but he's not overly optimistic. In fact, he also is fearful that if he leaves Lebanon, he'll be picked up by Interpol.
Nahas, who owns a Beirut-based modeling agency, used to work as a right-hand man for Moatessem Gadhafi, the playboy son of Libyan strongman Muammar Gadhafi, Nahas' longtime pal. It was during this time that Nahas was arrested on charges of running a prostitution ring that supplied more than 50 women "of various nationalities" to the younger Gadhafi and other rich Middle Eastern clients during the festival. Moatessem was killed with his father in Libya in 2011.
The women ran the gamut, from full-time escorts to models to beauty queens, and they serviced men in hotels, on yachts and in the palatial villas in the hills above Cannes, police said. Philippe Camps, a lawyer for a Paris-based anti-prostitution organization that was a civil plaintiff in the trial, tells THR that some of the women were brought to Cannes under false pretenses and coerced into prostitution. Police broke into Nahas' room at the city's famed Carlton hotel in August 2007 and arrested him after a lengthy investigation involving wiretaps, which helped them identify Nahas and seven others as key members of the vice ring. (Prostitution is legal in France, but soliciting, whether with advertising or on a street corner, is not.)
Nahas remains bitter about his arrest and subsequent conviction and denies he was running a prostitution ring. He says he was unfairly singled out in a sea of rich players who move in and around the Cannes Film Festival's second-biggest business after movies: sex. "Why me?" asks Nahas during a phone interview with THR from Beirut. "The police know what goes on during the film festival, and they turn a blind eye. But they went after me. Why? Because I worked for Gadhafi."
'They Can Make up to $40,000 a Night'
Every year, women ranging from what the French call putes de luxes (high-priced call girls), who charge an average of $4,000 a night, to local streetwalkers, who normally get little more than $50 or $75 an hour turning tricks in nearby Nice, converge on Cannes for what one Parisian hooker calls "the biggest payday of the year." The influx is hard not to notice. "Hookers stand out in Cannes. They're the ones who are well-dressed and not smoking," tweeted Roger Ebert in 2010.
"We all look forward to it," says a local prostitute in Cannes who goes by the name of Daisy on her website but declined to give her surname. Daisy is one of many independent escorts who have their own websites and usually avoid going to hotels and bars -- except during the festival. "There's a lot of competition because there are so many girls, but the local ones have an advantage. We know the hotel concierges."
The local prostitutes, says Daisy, routinely drop cash off with concierges at the town's top hotels. In return, if they are lucky, concierges sometimes steer clients their way. During the 10-day festival, an estimated 100 to 200 hookers stroll in and out of the big hotels every day, according to hotel sources. Nahas says the money can be bigger than most people realize. The most beautiful call girls, he says, know to target the high-end hotels "where all the Arabs stay."