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Strauss-Kahn charged in vice ring probe

Disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was charged on Monday with involvement in an organised vice ring that procured prostitutes for top-class clients, lawyers said.

Strauss-Kahn charged in vice ring probe
Photo: Guillaume Paumier

Prosecutors said the 62-year-old former Socialist finance minister and one-time presidential favourite had been released on €100,000 ($135,000) bail after the charges on “aggravated pimping as part of an organised gang”.

Strauss-Kahn was called in by investigating magistrates in the northern French city of Lille two days earlier than expected and charged with an offence that could carry 20 years in prison if he is convicted.

“He firmly declares that he is not guilty of these acts and never had the least inkling that the women he met could have been prostitutes,” said Richard Malka, one of Strauss-Kahn’s counsel.

“Dominique Strauss-Kahn was placed under judicial control and was forbidden from contacting defendants, civil plaintiffs, witnesses and the press regarding the procedures,” prosecutors said in a statement.

Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers immediately said they would appeal the charge.

“It goes without saying that we will ask for the cancellation of this decision,” said one of his lawyers, Henri Leclerc.

Strauss-Kahn “has never broken the law,” Malka said. “Through this prosecution they are trying to create a new crime punishing clients of prostitution where the law does not provide for this.”

He also suggested that Strauss-Kahn was being pursued because of his high profile and links to France’s Socialist party in the midst of a heated campaign for France’s April-May presidential election.

“As a result of behaviour that is purely his own business, Mr. Strauss-Kahn has found himself – largely because of his fame – thrown to the wolves, by coincidence less than a month before a major election,” Malka said.

Strauss-Kahn’s name came up as police were investigating a pimping operation that saw sex workers from brothels over the Belgian border being brought to France for orgies in high-class hotels in Lille and Paris.

Strauss-Kahn admits that he took part in some of these parties, one of which was said to involve women being flown to Washington to entertain him while he was still managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

But, through his lawyers, he has denied knowing the escorts were paid.

Using prostitutes is not illegal in France, but prosecutors are seeking proof that Strauss-Kahn was aware the parties were arranged by an organised pimping ring and paid for by other guests misusing company funds.  

Several Lille-based businessmen and policemen have been accused of taking part in the ring. Strauss-Kahn told police he did not suspect the women were prostitutes because he was introduced to them by senior police officers.

Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers will also be in court on Wednesday in New York for the first hearing in a civil case brought against him by Nafissatou Diallo, a hotel maid who alleges he sexually assaulted her.

Judge Douglas McKeon will be asked to rule on a motion by Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers urging him to dismiss the case on the grounds that, at the time of the alleged attack in May last year, their client had diplomatic immunity.

McKeon has said he will give a written judgment on whether the case can go forward within a few weeks. If he accepts the motion, Strauss-Kahn’s US legal woes may be over. If not, Diallo’s case for damages will go forward.

These two cases are the most serious threats facing Strauss-Kahn after the dismissal of two earlier criminal investigations that were brought against him in the United States and in France after his spectacular fall from grace. 

First, criminal charges relating to 32-year-old Diallo’s complaint that Strauss-Kahn attacked her in his suite in a New York Sofitel hotel on May 15 were dropped after prosecutors came to doubt the reliability of her testimony.

After that case fell apart, Strauss-Kahn, who had resigned from his post at the IMF in Washington, returned to France, only to face an accusation from 32-year-old author Tristane Banon that he had tried to rape her in 2002.

French investigating magistrates questioned Strauss-Kahn and his accuser and concluded that, while there was prima facie evidence of a sexual assault, the alleged attack had occurred too long ago to be prosecuted.

Strauss-Kahn admits having a “sexual encounter” with Diallo during the nine minutes she spent in his suite, and told French police that he had tried to kiss Banon, but strenuously denies he used violence in either case.

Until the scandals erupted, Strauss-Kahn was considered the favourite to become the Socialist Party’s presidential candidate and the frontrunner to defeat incumbent right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy in next month’s election.

OPINION &ANALYSIS

OPINION: If France is to belong in a multicultural world it must accept its Muslim women

It's another hot summer in France and there's another predictable uproar over the Burkini. If France wants to take its place in a multicultural world then it must make room for all its citizens, writes civil liberties expert Rim-Sarah Alouane.

OPINION: If France is to belong in a multicultural world it must accept its Muslim women

France’s compulsive obsession with the behaviour and dress of its Muslim citizens has taken on worrying proportions, and has turned over the years into a form of mass hysteria. The “burkini affair” is one of many examples.

The burkini is a two-piece full body swimsuit with sleeves, long legs and a headgear. This type of swimming-suit made of Lycra® leaves the face, feet and hands uncovered. It was invented in 2003 by Australian designer Aheda Zanetti, who wanted to develop sporting attire for Muslim women that would allow them to take part in sports activities while accommodating their religious beliefs. While the burkini was first designed for Muslim women, it has also been adopted by many non-Muslim women who wish to cover their bodies for various reasons.

The controversy escalated in 2016, when the French Council of State – France’s highest administrative court – overturned a series of local initiatives to ban the use of burkinis on public beaches. These bans were implemented in an atmosphere of increasing anti-Muslim sentiment by local officials who argued that such attire disturbed the public order. The Council saw no such disturbance and argued that it was an infringement on constitutionally protected civil liberties. This, however, did not end the controversy.

READ ALSO: Why is France’s interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

In response, the political establishment from across the political spectrum tried to find legal loopholes to circumvent the ruling, turning their attention to municipal swimming pools where they could modify the rules governing public services.

A recent controversy involved the Green Party Mayor of Grenoble, Eric Piolle, who authorized the wearing of the burkini (as well as topless swimsuits) in municipal swimming pools, triggering an avalanche of criticism. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin accused Mr Piolle of entertaining “communitarian provocation” and that authorizing the wearing of the burkini in public swimming pools was contrary to France’s values. Once again, French Muslim women found themselves stigmatised and targeted.

They were accused of being a conduit for Islamist extremism, separatism, patriarchy, and violating the principle of laïcité. This discourse, like so much before it, happened without inviting Muslim women themselves to be a part of the conversation.

Modern interpretations of Laïcité – France’s unique way of managing church-state relations – have become an ideological tool for political identity, a factor of division, and the exclusion of French Muslims from the societies in which they live. How did we get here?

The meaning of the term “laïcité” has become obscured by the fact that its interpretations are diverse and sometimes contradictory.

Its current usage betrays the very liberal intention of the 1905 law on “Separation of Church and State”, the ruling which forms the foundation of the principle. 

Laïcité once defined the territories in which the State is sovereign and religious belief is left at the door. It generates obligations for the state to remain neutral and guarantee the religious freedom and freedom of conscience of its citizens, within the limits of public order.

A significant misinterpretation of the 1905 law persists to this day. The law does not require religious belief or visible signs thereof to be kept in the home. However, politicians and pundits on a daily basis cite the law in their efforts to erase any religious visibility (especially Islam) in the public square.

Any attempt to show visible attributes of faith outside the home are deemed to be a threat to a commonly-held belief that France’s citizens should conform to an imaginary notion of what it means to be French. This very illiberal interpretation of laïcité and religious neutrality goes against the essence of the Law of 1905.

As France continues to mature as a country made up of people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, vulnerable communities have begun to advocate for their rights to be treated as equals with their fellow French citizens without giving up their personal beliefs and customs.

Critics of the clothing choices of Muslim women have forgotten the fundamental freedoms of the Declaration of  the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789, often seeking to free Muslim women from their religion. Even when Muslim women dare to defend their basic rights, they are often accused of being radicalised.

A good Muslim woman is a quiet invisible woman. The irony is that many Muslim women who wear their burkinis to swimming pools or wear headscarves during sports competitions actually go against rigorous interpretations of Islam. In order to justify burkini bans, politicians or commentators will often point to Muslim-majority countries who have similar prohibitions, as if authoritarian states were a role model for France to follow.

Muslim women are perceived as a threat because they shake France’s status quo. The illusion of France being a colour-blind nation has been broken. If France really believes that multicultural communities threaten the character of the country, it must not believe that its culture – one that the entire world looks up to – is actually that strong.

But if France is to take its place in a multicultural world, it needs to come to terms with how vulnerable communities fit within the notion of French identity and make room for all its citizens.

Rim-Sarah Alouane is a doctoral candidate and a researcher in comparative law at the University Toulouse Capitole in France. Her research focuses on civil liberties, constitutional law, and human rights in Europe and North America. She tweets @rimsarah
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