Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief once tipped to become French president before a hotel worker in New York City accused him of sexual assault, went on trial in France on Monday in a separate case of allegedly procuring prostitutes.
Strauss-Kahn, 65, settled a 2011 civil case filed in the United States by the hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo, after criminal charges against him were dropped. In the French prostitution trial, in the northern city of Lille, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $1.7 million if convicted.
The investigating magistrates, who sent Strauss-Kahn to trial with 13 others, allege that he knew he was dealing with prostitutes when taking part in sex parties in Paris, Lille and Washington from 2008 to 2011, a judicial source told Reuters. He is charged with procuring with aggravating circumstances.
Prosecutors say the charge of procuring, or pimping, is applicable because, under the French legal definition, it extends to any activity seen as facilitating prostitution.
Judicial investigators say that Strauss-Kahn allowed his rented apartment to be used for sex parties involving prostitutes and that he was involved in organizing the events.
His defense lawyers have denied those allegations, arguing that he never made a secret of his penchant for sex parties but that he was unaware the women present were prostitutes and did not play any pivotal organizational role.
Others questioned the motives of the prosecutor, saying Strauss-Khan was the victim of a political takedown that was precipitated by the New York incident but was in the works before then. In 2010 the French prime minister’s office ordered that Strauss-Khan’s phone be tapped, according to French newspaper La Libération.
“Men who have prostitutes visit and have them have sexual relations with their friends — that happens all the time, and none of these people have been prosecuted for pimping,” Eric Dupond-Moretti, a lawyer for David Roquet, a French businessman and co-defendant in the trial, told the paper.
Strauss-Kahn was driven into the courthouse on Monday without stopping to address journalists posted outside. He was accompanied by his three defense lawyers.
The case has come to be known as the Carlton affair, named after a hotel in the northern city of Lille that is at the center of a broader sex ring.
Strauss-Kahn, who was France’s finance minister in a boom-time socialist government in the late 1990s, became one of the world’s most influential decision-makers in 2007 as head of the IMF, a public lender that plays a central role worldwide in the rescue of failing economies.
His high-flying career ended in May 2011, after Diallo’s accusations came to light and images of his arrest, as he was taken into custody in handcuffs by New York City police, made news around the world.
Strauss-Kahn, who had been preparing to run for French president and was enjoying a runaway lead in opinion polls ahead of the 2012 contest, resigned from the IMF. The fall from grace destroyed his political ambitions, leaving an opening for François Hollande, who won the election.
Since returning to France, Strauss-Kahn has separated from his celebrity journalist wife, Anne Sinclair, met a new partner and pursued a career in private-sector investment.
The trial is expected to run for at least three weeks, a court official said.
Al Jazeera and Reuters