LILLE (Reuters, AFP) - Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF chief tipped to become French president before a New York hotel maid accused him of sexual assault in 2011, went on trial in France on Monday in a separate case of alleged procuring of prostitutes.
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.
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 euros (S$2.3 million).
Investigating magistrates who sent Strauss-Kahn to trial with 13 others argue he knew he was dealing with prostitutes when taking part in sex parties in Paris, Lille and Washington from 2008 to 2011, a judicial source told Reuters.
He is charged with "procuring with aggravating circumstances". Prosecutors say the charge of procuring, or pimping, is applicable because, under the French legal definition, it extends to any activity seen as facilitating prostitution.
In Strauss-Kahn's case, judicial investigators allege he allowed his rented apartment to be used for sex parties involving prostitutes and that he was involved in organising them.
Defence lawyers for Strauss-Kahn have flatly dismissed those allegations, arguing he never made a secret of his penchant for sex parties but was unaware the women present were prostitutes and did not play any pivotal organisational role.
The affair has come to be known as the Carlton Affair, named after a hotel in the northern city of Lille that is at the centre of a broader sex ring.
Strauss-Kahn, French finance minister in a boom-time Socialist government in the late 1990s, became one of the world's most influential decision-makers in 2007 as head of the International Monetary Fund, a public lender that plays a central role worldwide in the rescue of failing economies.
That high-flying career ended in May 2011 when the world witnessed live TV images of the then IMF chief being escorted handcuffed into custody in New York after the accusations of Sofitel room-cleaner Diallo.
Strauss-Kahn, who had been preparing to run for French president and was enjoying a runaway lead in opinion polls ahead of the 2012 contest, resigned from the IMF. The fall from grace destroyed his political ambitions, leaving the way free for Francois Hollande.
Since returning to France, Strauss-Kahn has separated from his celebrity journalist wife, Anne Sinclair, met a new partner and pursued a career in private-sector investment.
The trial is expected to run for at least three weeks, a court official said.