‘Sugar daddy’ website owner charged with debauchery in Belgium
The chief executive of a pan-European “sugar daddy” dating site that targeted students with adverts outside Belgian universities last summer has appeared in court charged with debauchery.
Norwegian Sigurd Vedal, 47, whose website Rich Meet Beautiful claimed to offer a “Fifty Shades of Grey” experience to young women, is being prosecuted following a complaint by the Université Libre de Bruxelles.
Trucks bearing large posters promoting the website, described as a “sugar daddy and sugar baby dating site”, appeared on the outskirts of campuses in Brussels last year. The advertisement invited students to “improve your style of life [by getting] a sugar daddy”.
After success in Scandinavia, the Norwegian company behind the website said it aimed to recruit 300,000 Belgian registrations by the end of 2018, but it was forced to end its marketing campaign after an outcry. Similar sites have emerged in the UK targeting female students. The US-based SeekingArrangement.com was found in 2015 to be offering premium membership to users with a university email address.
Vedal appeared in Brussels criminal court on charges of debauchery, public incitement to debauchery and violating anti-sexism laws.
Brussels prosecutors are seeking a six-month suspended prison sentence, a fine of €40,000 (£34,000) for Vedal personally and a €250,000 fine for his company.
They also want the company’s promotional materials to be seized, claiming that they “reduce students to sexual objects”.
Eric Cusas, acting for Vedal, said his client was a entrepreneur of fifteen years and a libertarian. “He is pursued by the pack, everyone wants to catch him by the collar,” he said.
“Rich Meet Beautiful is a specialised site aimed at bringing certain people together with a nice physique and others who are well-off,” Cusas said. He maintained any sexual element was “only in the eye of the observer”, and that Vedal had been made a scapegoat.
Laurent Kennes, a spokesman for the Université Libre de Bruxelles, said he had no doubt about the purpose of the website. “We presumed the existence of a sexual counterpart to the registration on this site. The message is: ‘you’re young, you’re beautiful, go out with a sugar daddy!’ Everyone understands what it’s about.”
The university is seeking €5,000 in damages to be “dedicated to an institution that fights against sexism and prostitution”, Kennes said.