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Brothel wars — stealing prostitutes and clients through bombs and threats

Two attacks at Paradise club have hit the establishment's business hard

A police patrol vehicle guards the entrance of the sprawling Paradise brothel in La Jonquera. Ampliar foto
A police patrol vehicle guards the entrance of the sprawling Paradise brothel in La Jonquera.

On the night of December 23, Catalan police defused a car bomb after several armed men wearing ski masks fled the scene, leaving outside the Paradise brothel an Opel Astra packed with TNT and US-made dynamite, which was connected to a six-meter fuse.

The Mossos d'Esquadra regional police think that someone is determined to rob the Paradise club - a massive business, which has cornered the prostitution market in La Jonquera for the past two years - of its clients.

Owner José Moreno also believes so. "They are trying to destroy us. They have cleaned us out during the holiday season. What they have done, they have done well."

The regional police force expects more bomb threats in the coming days, and, according to law enforcement authorities, the aim is to scare off customers.

They are trying to destroy us. What they have done, they have done well"

Eleven days before the car- bomb incident, masked men on motorcycles threw two grenades at the sprawling roadside establishment. There were no clients inside at the time but the explosions startled about 100 girls who were sleeping when the attack took place. The grenades destroyed two bathrooms near a warehouse.

Moreno is tired of the bad press. That is why last Thursday he refused entrance to two EL PAÍS reporters who wanted to enter the establishment to research this story. It is a complete change-around from his hearty welcome two years ago, when he invited the media to the club's opening.

The bomb scares and attacks have not only hurt his business but have also scared off about 50 of the 100 girls who once worked at the 80-room brothel.

"While they have robbed me of business, there are lines forming outside other brothels," said Moreno, without mentioning any names.

But according to police sources, business at Lady Dallas - another brothel located just some 1,000 meters away from Paradise - has been booming. The clients Lady Dallas lost when Paradise opened its doors in the fall of 2010 are returning.

"This scares us all, and it is the same story over and over," said one employee at Lady Dallas, before cutting off a reporter's question and refusing to explain further.

That same fear is being felt around the town, where some 300 other business owners last Wednesday met to discuss the situation. They are demanding a meeting with Moreno and the Mossos, because they are concerned that the attacks are hurting the area's image and scaring off their own clients.

La Jonquera is now known for its truckers, hookers and bombs"

"Before La Jonquera was known for its truckers and hookers. Now it is known for its truckers, hookers and bombs," said one restaurant employee who works nearby.

Billed as the biggest brothel in Europe, Paradise caused a sensation when it first opened. The municipality unsuccessfully tried to block its inauguration, but relented after the courts ruled in favor of Moreno and ordered that its permits be granted.

But it wasn't just the place itself that was controversial. Moreno has been the target of numerous investigations for illegally bringing women over from Brazil to staff his sex trade. The owner of two other brothels in Girona - Eclipse and Edén - Moreno was sentenced to three years in prison last March for being the head of a sex-trafficking ring. But the Girona regional High Court ruled that he personally didn't force the women to enter Europe.

"I don't know if I have been convicted; I am still free and I am still operating my businesses," said Moreno when asked about these court cases.

At the same time, police acting on search warrants entered his home and confiscated some of his personal effects. From his home, they found that Moreno had a sophisticated surveillance camera system set up, from where he could monitor what was going on at his businesses.

The Mossos are determined to find out who wants to ruin Moreno's trade. In August 2010, two months before Paradise opened its doors, masked men barged into the premises where construction work was still taking place, beat up a security guard, poured gasoline over the entrance, and set the place on fire.

Moreno's lawyer, Lluis Frigola, insists that it was the competition.

Who else would want to keep Paradise's doors shut? There are many open theories as well as suspects. From the many brothels that operate in the area - Lady Dallas, Madam's and the New Baby Doll - mafias who want to set up shop in the area can easily do so by scaring off the competition. Some police sources also point to a vendetta surrounding the death of a young French citizen, who died of a heart attack after a violent altercation with security guards.

But despite the threats, there are hordes of clients willing to pay the 15-euro cover charge at Paradise just to get a glimpse of the girls inside. On this particular Thursday night, the place was packed with men in their 20s and 30s, mostly French nationals, who were lined up outside waiting to get in.

One Frenchman seemed unconcerned after he asked if the Opel Astra had exploded.

"Scared? Why should I be scared?" said the bouncer at the club's entrance. "I have been shot at at Saratoga's, and at Madam's someone threw a Molotov cocktail at me. That is what they are looking for, to scare us, but we are not going to give in."