The right-hand man of Edinburgh’s vice trade queen today said the pair are considering setting up another agency despite being convicted of living off immoral earnings.
Unrepentant Robert Munro, who describes himself as a “hard-working businessman”, claimed the prosecution had been sparked by a “vendetta” involving a rival agency “jealous of their success”, and suggested that the pair might start up another escort agency to rise from the ashes.
The pair are still to be sentenced, while court proceedings to seize any profits they made from what was estimated to be a multi-million pound business are due to begin in September.
But as well as suggesting they could start another agency, Munro also warned that their prosecution could open the door to the Russian Mafia.
In an interview with the Evening News, Munro said: “I’ve always been a hard-working businessman. We might start another escort agency. Why shouldn’t we? It might depend on what happens now. I don’t want to comment further at the moment.
“The police surveillance was a total farce. They did not find anybody with their trousers down. The girls worked in a safe environment. It was not prostitution, it was escorts.
“The other agency would take over our website, drive us down the internet listing and move pictures about. There are still loads of escort agencies, owners driving around Edinburgh in limousines. They do in-calls. What’s happening to them? Why did the police only go after us?
“We were running it properly. It was not a racket. It will now be driven underground. You will have the Russian Mafia moving in, or the Romanians. Is that what the police want?”
In his police interview, Munro told detectives that a rival agency may have had a “hacker specialist” who was harassing them and causing their websites to crash.
A phone message found during the police investiagtion seemed to suggest a “tit for tat” battle between their agency and a rival in what the court heard was the city’s “cut-throat” rivalry between competing firms.
The message read: “FAO Robert Munro. It is very immature to keep closing down (our) map listing on a daily basis and changing our address. We’ll only do the same back. It’s getting boring. We can stop here and now, it’s your choice.”
Munro was convicted of running the brothel alongside his ex-lover Margaret Paterson, 61. Ian Goalen, 59, who would drive the women employed by the agency to meet clients around the city and gave evidence against his former bosses, was also convicted of living off the earnings of prostitutes.
It’s estimated that Paterson – dubbed “Madam Moneybags” because of her penchant for stashing away huge sums of cash in her cluttered flat – made more than £1 million from the Grosvenor Street AaBella Escorts business, which provided prostitutes in Edinburgh, the Lothians, Glasgow and Aberdeen, over a period of nine years. Police officers who raided the premises discovered details of more than 1500 bookings attended by roughly 65 women.
Police also discovered more than £200,000 in cash, along with stacks of designer products, many of which had never even been unwrapped, stashed in her flat, also situated on Grosvenor Street.
A Crown Office spokesman confirmed that the Proceeds of Crime case against Goalen was due to begin on September 2, with Paterson and Munro expected to appear in court a week later.
One legal expert said prosecutors would now be thoroughly examining the trio’s finances.
Neal McShane, an associate and criminal lawyer with Gildeas Solicitors, based in Melville Street, said: “The Crown will calculate a figure of what the financial benefit was from their criminal lifestyle. They would look at bank accounts, property, mortgages, cash and luxury goods to assess what might have come from proceeds of crime over a six-year period.
“The Crown would also assess the couple’s current lifestyle, looking at property and assets, much of which might already be frozen. Certainly in the case of the £200,000 cash, the £500,000 in bank accounts and the hundreds of thousands of pounds in designer goods, all of this will probably have been seized already. The proceeds of crime hearing would then make a finding on how much of this was gained by criminal means and how much should be forfeited.
“The trio have the opportunity to instruct accountants to justify any claim they have that any of their funds were legitimately earned, but they do have significant assets and face losing these as a result of them being found guilty.”
Rhoda Grant, a Labour Highlands and Islands MSP, who has proposed a Purchase of Sex Bill in the hope that it will lead to the prosecution of buyers of sex, rather than those working in the vice trade challenged Munro’s claims that he and Paterson had not been running a prostitution “racket”.
“There’s always the arguments that these women are making their own money and that they chose to do this work, but this was clearly an organisation that was looking to hire people for sex work, and one thing that really struck me was the sheer amount of money involved,” she said.
“While we don’t know exactly how much all the women working for them were making, with profits that high they were clearly lining their pockets off the misery and misfortune of others. If that’s not a racket, I don’t know what is.”
The MSP again called for legislation to aid in securing convictions against those purchasing sex for money, saying: “The only people who don’t seem to be being charged are the men who were using these services, who appear to be walking away scot-free. We need legislation that will deal with the market – if you remove the market then we will not have these problems.”
However, Margo MacDonald, the independent MSP who tried to get a bill through Holyrood to keep Edinburgh’s prostitution tolerance zones, argued that driving sexual services underground only served to endanger sex workers.
She said: “I think a lot of the girls working for this agency would have agreed that it was a safe environment, and many would be offended by assumptions that they were in fact sex workers, or that if they did choose to offer sexual services, that they had been forced into doing so by violence, coercion or addiction.”
The Lothians MSP added: “The reason there has not been a problem with trafficking of women in Edinburgh is because establishments like the saunas had been operating out in the open. Prostitution is always likely to be with us and pushing it underground is not in the interests of the women involved or the wider community.”
UGLY MUGS PROJECT PROTECTS
A NEW nationwide scheme allows escorts working in Edinburgh, and other cities around the UK, to report dangerous customers to police anonymously.
The Ugly Mugs project offers free alerts delivered by email or text to sex workers giving details of clients who may pose a threat and have been reported by other workers. The organisation can also alert police without giving details of the complainant.
The scheme is backed by Support and Advice for Escorts, which also provides an online forum for sex workers and escorts to warn colleagues.
Call for seized cash to benefit sex workers
THE Profits gained through the sex trade which are seized by the courts should be used to help rehabilitating prostitutes instead of paying for sports centres, according to Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald.
As the courts prepare to seize assets from the three people convicted of running a UK-wide sex-for-sale business, Ms MacDonald said there was a need to reform crime laws.
And she believed at least some of the immoral earnings from Margaret Paterson’s running of a brothel and a nationwide escort business from a house in the west end of the capital should be used to help sex workers.
Ms MacDonald, said: “The truth is that competing with funds for a young boys’ football charity or a Girl Guide-like project, a project that supports sex workers wouldn’t come high up the list.
“So if there is money obtained by the authorities of the proceeds of crime, and in this case the crime is prostitution, I would like to see a special fund that would be used to educate the women who are working in the sex industry and help them exit if they want to.”
And she also felt there was a need for updating vice laws, and suggested “there is a lot more widespread participation than people realise”.
The uncovering of the Edinburgh escort empire shows the need for a change in Scotland’s approach to how it tackles vice, Ms MacDonald said.
Her comments also come in the wake of a series of raids at Edinburgh’s saunas, which saw the new single Scottish force comes under scrutiny for apparent regional variations in approaches to the sex trade.
The Proceeds of Crime Act in Scotland has led to £80 million being recovered from convicted criminals since 2003, with the money recovered invested by Scottish Ministers on a range of activities for children and young people through the CashBack for Communities programme. More than 600,000 young people across Scotland have benefited since 2007.