Former International Monetary Fund supremo Dominique Strauss-Kahn will go on trial on sex charges today in the nation where he once was tipped to run for the presidency.
Strauss-Kahn, 65, whose career went down in flames amid accusations of sexually assaulting a hotel maid in New York, is facing similarly shocking charges in France – aggravated pimping and involvement in a prostitution ring operating out of luxury hotels.
The French economist known widely as DSK faces up to 10 years in prison and a €1.5m fine, as he and more than a dozen other French and Belgian businessmen and police officers go on trial in Lille.
The trial is set to last three weeks, with Strauss-Kahn not expected to give evidence until February 10.
Investigators have compiled hundreds of pages of evidence from prostitutes describing orgies allegedly organised by Strauss-Kahn and his co-defendants, centred on the expensive Carlton Hotel in Lille, near the Belgian border.
Strauss-Kahn says he took part in “libertine” activities but insists he never knew the women involved were prostitutes.
It is not illegal to pay for sex in France, but it is against the law to solicit or to run a prostitution business.
Hundreds of reporters are expected to cover the trial, which comes nearly four years after accusations that Strauss-Kahn had sexually assaulted Guinean-born Nafissatou Diallo – accusations that ended his high-flying finance career.
As head of the Washington DC-based IMF between 2007 and 2011, Strauss-Kahn was a globetrotting financial mandarin who was also tipped to become the French Socialist party’s presidential candidate for the 2012 election.
He was arrested, put in handcuffs before the world’s TV cameras and locked up in New York City’s Rikers Island prison for four days. Ms Diallo told police he forced her to perform oral sex, tried to rape her and tore a ligament in her shoulder after she arrived to clean his luxury suite at the Hotel Sofitel in New York in May 2011.
Strauss-Kahn was forced to resign from his £330,000-a-year position as head of the IMF, even though New York prosecutors dropped the case three months later because they said Ms Diallo undercut her credibility by lying about her background and changing her account of her actions right after the alleged attack.
Strauss-Kahn said the sexual encounter was consensual but called it “a moral failing”.
Ms Diallo later reached a confidential settlement with Strauss-Kahn in a separate civil complaint.
But no sooner had the US action ended than Strauss-Kahn was named in the Carlton Affair, as the pimping case has been called. French police detained and questioned him for 30 hours in 2012 during their probe into the alleged prostitution ring.
Prostitutes questioned in the case said they had sex with Strauss-Kahn between 2009 and 2011 at a luxury hotel in Paris, at a restaurant in the French capital and also in Washington DC.
Prosecutors filed preliminary charges of aggravated pimping in March 2012. Months later, Strauss-Kahn’s 20-year-plus marriage to prominent French television journalist and wealthy heiress Anne Sinclair crumbled. Investigating judges ordered him to stand trial in 2013, ignoring the prosecutor’s office’s recommendation that the charge be dropped.
In recent years, Strauss-Kahn has made several attempts to renter French public life, appearing at the Cannes Film Festival and giving a long interview about the euro crisis to a French news programme. The trial will test his bid to put a string of torrid sex scandals behind him.
One of the prostitutes questioned during the investigation described one of Strauss-Kahn’s orgies.
“I was shocked. I didn’t want to get involved in this carnage,” Sandrine Vandenschrik told police, according to judicial documents viewed by The Associated Press.
She described a scene at Paris’ Murano hotel in March 2009, when she entered a room to see Strauss-Kahn on a bed being “taken care of” by seven or eight women.
Ms Vandenschrik said she told police that if Strauss-Kahn said he did not know the women were prostitutes, “he really wants us to believe he’s naive and takes us for idiots”.