The eagerly awaited trial of the disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn for underway in Lille on Monday. Photo: AFP
The eagerly awaited trial of the disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is accused of aggravated pimping, got underway in Lille on Monday. Sordid details of the ex-minister's sex life are set to be revealed over the next three weeks.
The disgraced 65-year-old economist found himself back in the dock -- this time in the northern French city of Lille -- accused of being at the centre of a vice ring which hired prostitutes for sex parties in Brussels, Paris and Washington.
A silver-haired Strauss-Kahn, dressed in a dark suit, slipped past a throng of journalists to arrive early in the wood-panelled courtroom, where he paced up and down with his hands in his pockets in front of the imposing stone bench, where over 40 massive files were stacked.
He appeared on edge as he sat, arms folded, while presiding judge Bernard Lemaire read out the charges against him and 13 co-accused, a colourful cast of characters including luxury hotel managers, police, and a brothel owner nicknamed "Dodo the Pimp."
"You are accused of aiding and abetting the prostitution of seven persons between March 29, 2008 and October 4, 2011, and of hiring and encouraging the prostitution of these same persons," Lemaire told Strauss-Kahn.
The trial kicked off with a request for the hearings of ex-prostitutes to take place behind closed doors, which Lemaire rejected after a brief deliberation.
Procedural applications, such as a request by a lawyer for the former prostitutes involved for hearings to take place behind closed doors, were expected to dominate the first day of the trial.
Lurid details of group sex and high-end prostitution are likely to emerge in the trial for "aggravated pimping in an organised group", a charge punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to €1.5 million.
The trial will be the latest in a series of legal woes offering a peek behind the bedroom door of a man once tipped as a potential challenger to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The ex-head of the International Monetary Fund, known in France as DSK, saw his career implode in 2011 when he was paraded handcuffed in front of the world's cameras after a New York hotel maid accused him of sexual assault.
Those criminal charges were dropped and the case settled in a civil suit, but six months later Strauss-Kahn's name cropped up in an investigation into a prostitution ring in northern France and Belgium.
Investigators probing the "Carlton Affair" -- named after one of the swish hotels in Lille where local businessmen and police officials organised sex parties -- found some of the prostitutes involved had been hired to participate in soirees attended by Strauss-Kahn.
- Self-confessed 'libertine' -
Prostitution is legal in France but procuring -- the legal term for pimping which includes encouraging, benefiting from or organising prostitution -- is punishable by a hefty jail term.
The crux of the case against DSK is whether he knew the women lavishing their attention on him were prostitutes and whether he played a role in
organising their presence.
DSK admits to being a "libertine" who enjoys orgies but has steadfastly denied knowing the women were paid.
"In these circumstances one isn't always clothed, and I challenge you to tell the difference between a prostitute naked and any other woman naked," DSK's star lawyer Henri Leclerc, 84, said in 2011.
But even prosecutors have been divided over whether there is enough evidence to prove DSK was more pimp than casual consumer. In 2013 state prosecutor Frederic Fevre called for the charges to be dropped, but investigating judges overruled him and ordered DSK to stand trial.
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Their probe found that DSK was the "king of the party," and they are seeking to prove his mere presence gave rise to prostitution as his entourage organised the evenings according to his schedule.
Those attending the gatherings described "carnage with a heap of mattresses on the floor", with DSK the focus of several women at a time in an atmosphere more of "pure sexual consummation" than a typical swinger's party.
Before the trial proper begins, the court will on Monday deal with a host of procedural applications, such as one for the trial to take place behind closed doors from one of the prostitutes testifying.
The first to take the stand among the 14 accused on Tuesday will be the Carlton's former public relations manager Rene Kojfer who is accused of organising prostitutes for "well-connected men", often setting them up in his hotel.
He is also accused of doing publicity for another accused, a pimp who owns a string of brothels near the French border in Belgium, where rules are more lax.
Dominique Alderweireld, nicknamed "Dodo la Saumure" -- which loosely translates as Dodo the Mackerel, the French slang for pimp -- is accused of procuring prostitutes for Kojfer, some of whom were employed at the orgies attended by DSK.
Strauss-Kahn will be in court for the start of the trial and will be cross-examined from February 10.