Wealthy Parisian couples looking forward to an elegant, expensive and naughty New Year's Eve – €620 for caviar, lobster and wife-swapping – may have to think again. Les Chandelles, the most exclusive of the wife-swapping clubs in the French capital, is under investigation for allegedly allowing prostitutes to operate on its premises.
The city's police chief must decide in the next couple of days whether to permit the club's New Year's Eve party, entitled "a thousand and one follies", to go ahead.
Les Chandelles - or the candles - has a reputation as the most snobbish "boite echangiste" or wife-swapping club in Paris. To be admitted to the glittering premises in the heart of the city between the Opera and the Louvre, you have to be wealthy, famous or good-looking and preferably all three.
Clients are reported to have included the former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and other members of the political and media elite.
The restaurant and bar have the elegant look, and quality, of a five-star hotel. Guests who wish to do so can move on to the "libertine" activities - partner-swapping or group sex - in the lounge and private rooms next door.
It is now alleged that some of the female "guests" at Les Chandelles are not what they appear. An investigation by the Paris vice squad has concluded that the club is a haunt of high-class prostitutes. Three people, including a former professional footballer, Alim Ben Mabrouk, 51, have been placed under formal investigation on allegations of "highly organised pimping".
A police report completed this week recommends that the club should be shut down, at least temporarily. Its proprietor, 44 year-old Valérie Hervo, known as "Madame Valérie", has been questioned by police but she is not among those who face charges at this stage. "I have nothing to say, only that my establishment has nothing to do with this affair," she told the French magazine VSD.
Wife-swapping clubs have become an accepted part of Parisian night-life in the last 30 years. Over 50 establishments are listed in entertainment guides. Les Chandelles is among the oldest and by far the most exclusive.
The club’s web-site says that it offers “all the refinements of sensuality, gentle, tender, playful and intense”. Female guests, the site claims, are “sublime, glamorous and unsettling beauties of the night”. They are accompanied by “irresistible princes, both gentlemanly and sexy”.
Guests must be well-dressed, even if they do not plan to remain dressed for very long. “Les Chandelles despises flat shoes, trainers and sportswear,” the site warns. “Also short-sleeved shirts and white socks.”
“Above all, Les Chandelles does not have any time for vulgarity, lack of respect or small-mindedness,” the site says. In practice, this is said to mean that the non-rich, non-famous and not-especially good-looking need not apply for entry.
Although single men and women are admitted to some events, the club is mostly reserved for couples. A lengthy police investigation concluded, however, that some of the apparent couples were not what they seemed. Le Monde quoted one police officer as asking: “How could the club not have known that it was being frequented by prostitutes?”