Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the disgraced French politician and former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), took the stand Tuesday in France to testify in a trial that involves sex parties at luxury hotels and an international prostitution ring.
DSK, as he is known in France, stands accused of "aggravated pimping," in what has been dubbed the "Carlton affair" because it involves orgies at the Carlton Hotel in the northern French town of Lille and in other cities, including Washington and Paris.
The hearing got off to a raucous start when three topless members of the radical feminist protest group FEMEN threw themselves at DSK's car, chanting "your turn to get fucked."
Speaking in court Tuesday, the 65-year-old Strauss-Kahn — a one-time presidential hopeful — admitted he was present at the sex parties, but argued that he was unaware he was having sex with prostitutes. He said he thought the women were, like him, "libertines."
Strauss-Kahn also told the court that, "Sleeping with a prostitute is not my concept of a sexual relationship," and that he didn't like to pay for sex, preferring instead "a party atmosphere."
Throughout the afternoon, the former head of the IMF described some of his sexual proclivities, explaining that the orgies were an escape from "a very hectic life, with just a few outlets for recreation." He claimed the orgies happened a mere "four times a year," and did not constitute "unbridled activity."
Clara Beaudoux, a journalist for France Info who attended the hearing, tweeted a claim DSK made about the prostitutes. He reportedly said, "I never thought they were here for me, I thought they were here with friends."
DSK was first linked to the case by chance in May 2011, when police investigating a suspected prostitution ring wiretapped the phone of Dominique Alderweireld, a Belgian sex club owner and pimp better known as Dodo la Saumure. The investigation into Alderweireld involved several hotels in Lille and a number of public figures.
Strauss-Kahn's name came up in a conversation between René Kojfer, head of public relations at the Carlton Hotel, and Dodo la Saumure, who was recorded saying, "Have you seen Strauss-Kahn? It's not surprising. You know, when I brought girls over for him… He's screwed."
DSK had just been arrested in New York on charges of sexual assault. Nafissatou Diallo, a housekeeper at the Sofitel Hotel who filed the assault claim, later dropped the charges. As a result of the scandal, DSK resigned as head of the IMF and dropped his presidential ambitions.
According to reports, orgies and "libertine parties" were thrown for DSK — nicknamed "the king of the party" by an alleged participant — in Lille, Washington, and Paris. Women involved in the case have described DSK's sexual preferences as "unusual" and "a slaughter." Several female witnesses claim Strauss-Kahn was "the central pivot and main beneficiary" of the sex parties, and that, at times, he was "the sole beneficiary."
Prostitution is not illegal in France, and neither is being a john. But pimping — any activity deemed to facilitate or encourage prostitution — is an offense punishable by prison. Prosecutors have argued that DSK knew the women present at the orgies were prostitutes, not libertines — a claim he denies.
Didier Rebut, who teaches criminal law at the University of Panthéon-Assas in Paris, told VICE News that, "In most cases, individuals accused of pimping knew they were dealing with prostitutes."
The court will now try to determine whether or not DSK is lying when he says he was oblivious to the transactional nature of what he describes as "recreational sessions," insisting he never "had any reason to believe these women were being paid."
As for why Strauss-Kahn thought all these young women were so eager to have no-strings-attached sex with him, he said he often found himself "in a situation where a woman throws herself at me."
A former prostitute who used the name Mounia told the court that DSK insisted on having anal sex during one of the "parties," even though she made it clear she didn't want to. Strauss-Kahn denied the allegation, saying, "If a woman says no, it means no."
The anal sex allegation is significant. If it can be proven that DSK insisted on a sexual practice his partner was not comfortable with, it will help strengthen the argument that he knew she was in fact a prostitute — not an unpaid swinger.
Another ex-prostitute who went by the name Jade described the orgies as a scene "from antiquity." When asked whether or not she had ever spoken to Strauss-Kahn, she replied that she "couldn't really, since he was in her mouth."
Rebut, the French criminal law expert, explained that the French definition of pimping is extremely broad. "French law expands [the definition of] pimping, which consists of benefiting from someone else's prostitution and making money off it, to include any activity that encourages prostitution, outside of any payment," he said.
"The line between client and pimp is getting thinner," he added. "This highlights the evolution of a society that wants to go further in tackling issues of prostitution and pimping by prosecuting the individual who paid."
The hearing was adjourned Tuesday night and is scheduled resume Wednesday morning.
Follow Mélodie Bouchaud on Twitter: @meloboucho
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