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Allies seek distance as Strauss-Kahn faces inquiry

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-03-27

Onetime allies of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the IMF and a prominent French Socialist, are seeking to distance themselves as he faces a formal investigation into his alleged involvement in a prostitution ring.

AFP - Former allies of disgraced ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn distanced themselves Tuesday, less that a month before presidential elections, as his lawyers fiercely denied pimping charges.

Prosecutors said the 62-year-old former Socialist minister and presidential favourite had been released late Monday on 100,000 euros ($135,000) bail after being charged with "aggravated pimping as part of an organised gang".

The former world statesman's implication in a long series of scandals and court cases has proved an embarrassment to his party, which once hoped he would bear its colours in next month's presidential race.

Instead, former party leader Francois Hollande is standing as the Socialist candidate against incumbent right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy, while Strauss-Kahn prepares a defence against a charge that carries a 20-year prison term.

"It's a private matter. It's painful, but not something that I have to make a political judgement about," Hollande said, on France Bleu radio, as he began another day on the campaign trail.

Hollande's campaign director, Pierre Moscovici, said: "Everyone feels sadness for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was for so long an actor in public life by our side.

"Now it's time for the justice system to go to work. Everyone can see this has nothing to do with the Socialist Party," he said.

Hollande remains the favourite in the opinion polls to beat Sarkozy in the election's May 6 second-round run-off, but the gap between the two has narrowed in recent days with less than a month to the first round vote.

On Monday, Strauss-Kahn was called in by investigating magistrates in the northern French city of Lille to be charged two days earlier than expected.

"This case is hollow, empty and overblown," defence lawyer Henri Leclerc declared at a news conference, predicting that once the evidence was subjected to cross-examination the case "would collapse immediately".

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

Strauss-Kahn admits 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.

"There's no serious evidence to suggest that Dominique Strauss-Kahn knew that these women were paid," Leclerc protested.

"Certainly Dominique Strauss-Kahn has attended a certain number of parties with women, libertine parties with female friends and women who were friends of his friends," he continued.

"You can say what you like about that on the moral level, but that doesn't change the fact that it's not against the criminal law. They are trying to ban a sort of crime of lust. He's being attacked over his libertine behaviour."

Using prostitutes is not illegal in France, but prosecutors suspect Strauss-Kahn was aware the parties were paid for by other guests -- friends from the business community -- misusing their own companies' funds.

Several 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.

A Bronx judge 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.

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, 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 and told French police that he tried to kiss Banon, but strenuously denies he used violence.

Date created : 2012-03-27


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