The disgraced former IMF chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, will go on trial in France on Monday accused of being a “pimp”.
All accusations of sexual misconduct against the former French politician have collapsed or been settled out of court since he was arrested in New York in 2011 for alleged attempted rape. All except one. In the trial which starts in Lille on Monday the man who might have been president of the Republic will face the apparently bizarre charge of “aggravated pimping”.
In French law, pimping does not necessarily mean living on the earnings of prostitutes. DSK is accused of taking part in orgies with prostitutes in three countries and, crucially, of helping to organise them.
The last of the parties took place in Washington DC in May 2011 in the days just before Mr Strauss-Kahn was arrested in Manhattan and accused of the attempted rape of a chamber maid. He does not deny taking part. He claims that he did not know that the young women involved were prostitutes.
Under interrogation in 2012, he said it was “impossible to distinguish a prostitute from any other woman when she has no clothes on”. Investigators have, however, discovered text messages in which Mr Strauss-Kahn, 65, refers to the women as “matériel” or equipment.
Witnesses have told police DSK was the “king of the party”. They say some of the events were organised at his flat in Paris and that the orgies were “carnage with a heap of mattresses on the floor”.
He is expected to give testimony himself from 10 February. If found guilty of “conspiracy to organise aggravated pimping”, Mr Strauss-Kahn would face up to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to €1.5m.
The evidence against the former politician is far from solid. The state prosecutor recommended last year that the case against Mr Strauss-Kahn – but not the other 12 defendants – should be dropped. Two magistrates who investigated the case for three years exercised their right to insist that DSK should be sent for trial.
In other words, starting on Monday, the state prosecutor will have to conduct a case against Mr Strauss-Kahn which he believes is likely to fail. DSK’s lawyers will try to have the charges dismissed.
There are, however, several recent precedents of French courts convicting defendants despite a prosecutor’s reluctance to prosecute. One high-profile example was the conviction of former President Jacques Chirac on corruption charges in December 2011.
Either way, the Lille trial is likely to damage Mr Strauss-Kahn’s efforts to recreate himself as an unelected statesman and brain-for-hire.
Twelve other people are on trial in the so-called “Affaire Carlton” – named after the Carlton Hotel in Lille in northern France, allegedly at the centre of the orgy and prostitution ring.
All contest the charges. The other defendants include Dominique Alderweireld, the owner of sex clubs on the Franco-Belgian border, accused of supplying women to the parties; two former managers at the Hotel Carlton in Lille and the hotel’s owner Hervé Franchois, accused of putting the prostitutes in touch with the organisers of the orgies; as well as three businessmen and a laywer
Jean-Christophe Lagarde, a former senior police detective, is accused of organising the events to ingratiate himself with Mr Strauss-Kahn. At the time of the parties in 2008-11, DSK was seen as the likely Socialist candidate in the 2012 presidential election.
After the attempted rape allegations in New York – settled finally as a civil case – Mr Strauss-Kahn dropped out of the running. After the Manhattan accusations, a young French writer Tristane Banon came forward to claim that DSK had attempted to rape her during an interview, which he denied. An investigation found no proof of attempted rape but decided there was evidence that Mr Strauss-Kahn had committed sexual assault. The time limit for a prosecution for had, however, passed.
During the investigation of the Carlton Affair, Mr Strauss-Kahn and other defendants were briefly placed under formal investigation for rape. The accusation was dropped after a young Belgian woman present at the Washington sex party withdrew her allegation.