LILLE (AFP) - Lurid details of lunchtime sex parties emerged on Tuesday as an ex-prostitute nicknamed "Jade" took the stand in a French trial over a high-end prostitution ring that landed former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn in court on charges of pimping.
The first part of the multi-faceted trial with 14 accused is focused on a prostitution ring allegedly run by the owners and a publicist for the luxury Carlton hotel in the northern city of Lille.
It was during a probe into the so-called "Carlton Affair" that investigators stumbled across the name of Strauss-Kahn, whose high-flying career and presidential prospects imploded when a New York hotel maid accused him of sexual assault in 2011.
Strauss-Kahn will not appear until he testifies next week, and witnesses are not allowed to refer to those not present, but the now-retired prostitute Jade made references to "a public figure" she met through the "Carlton" vice ring.
It is members of the Carlton ring who allegedly procured prostitutes - including Jade - for the entourage of Strauss-Kahn, and who threw sex parties for the disgraced former finance minister in Paris, Brussels and Washington.
Jade, bespectacled and with a brunette bob, dressed in neutral colours with a scarf wrapped tightly around her neck, burst into tears several times as she told how she had been forced to take up prostitution to support her two young children after her divorce.
She explained how Rene Kojfer, 74, former public relations manager for the Carlton and her employer Dominique Alderweireld, a notorious brothel owner in Belgium just across the border who is known as "Dodo the Pimp" would organise for her and other women to attend lunchtime sex parties at a private Lille apartment.
The judge asked her directly what she was paid for.
"Well, I wasn't there doing the cleaning", she retorted.
"There were sexual relations but each person had a partner, there was no orgy where everyone gets involved, the men made their choice," she said, describing a "classy" environment with champagne and a buffet.
This is in comparison to the orgies with Strauss-Kahn, which she described during the investigation as "carnage with a heap of mattresses on the floor", according to prosecution sources.
Prostitution is legal in France but procuring - the legal term for pimping which includes encouraging, benefiting from or organising prostitution - is a crime.
As such the trial focused on who paid whom, and who gave the orders.
On one occasion, Jade said Kojfer - accused of setting up local businessmen and police officials with prostitutes - handed her cash directly, and in other cases the bill was settled by "Dodo".
She claimed Kojfer paid the girls much less than promised, saying "times are hard", adding "but we got a free bathrobe." Kojfer denies the charge of "aggravated pimping", saying he was merely doing a service for his friends by introducing them to the prostitutes he knew.
Strauss-Kahn said on Monday he had never set foot in the Carlton and did not know Kojfer and "Dodo".
The trial is the latest in a series of cases offering a peek behind the bedroom door of a man once tipped as a potential challenger to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
France was stunned when it saw Strauss-Kahn paraded handcuffed in front of the world's cameras after a New York hotel maid accused him of sexual assault in May 2011 - a case that was eventually settled in a civil suit.
Strauss-Kahn admits to being a "libertine" who took part in orgies, but denies knowing that the women at the parties were prostitutes.
"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," Strauss-Kahn's lawyer Henri Leclerc, 84, said in 2011.
The economist nonetheless finds himself facing 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 1.5 million euros (S$2.31 million) for "aggravated pimping in an organised group", with investigating judges arguing he played a role in initiating the sex parties and organising the presence of the prostitutes.