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The flawed case against 'libertine' Strauss-Kahn

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is accused of 'aggravated pimping'
Dominique Strauss-Kahn is accused of 'aggravated pimping' Philippe Huguen/AFP

Few eyebrows were raised when prosecutors in Lille decided Tuesday to recommend a “pure and simple” acquittal of Dominique Strauss-Kahn on “aggravated pimping” charges – not least his own.

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Indeed, the 65-year-old former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief has been cocky and confident throughout a two week trial that has delved deeply and disturbingly into his often extreme sexual proclivities.

Calling for an acquittal halfway through the trial, prosecutors lamented that while his inclusion in the investigation had been manna for the media, they doubted justice had been served by prosecuting him in a case that had grabbed the world’s attention for all the wrong reasons.

Sex ring

Strauss-Kahn, once tipped as odds-on favourite to beat former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential election, is no stranger to the courts, having been forced to withdraw from the 2012 presidential battle following allegations that he had sexually assaulted hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo at the Sofitel New York Hotel in May 2011.

Known in France by his initials DSK, he is one of 14 defendants in the so-called "Carlton Affair" trial, named after the Lille hotel in northern France where alleged prostitution and pimping sparked the investigation into a possible sex ring.

Specifically, Strauss-Kahn is accused of “aggravated pimping”, in that he was aware that the women who attended orgies with him between 2009 and 2011 were prostitutes and that this would constitute organising the activities of sex workers, which is a crime in France.

His defence has been one of absolute denial: he had no idea any of the women were paid, and assumed that they were “throwing themselves at him” because of his power and status.

DSK the ‘libertine’

Under questioning Strauss-Kahn openly described himself in court as a "libertine" (as did three of his co-defendants), and many of the details of his regular orgies could have come straight from the pages of a novel by the Marquis de Sade, the notorious 18th-century French philosopher and pornographer who made liberal use of the term.

But enjoying (often brutal and deliberately humiliating) group sex is not a criminal offence in France.

For a conviction, the court needed to prove that Strauss-Kahn knew the women involved were prostitutes and that he had organised orgies knowing that they were paid to attend.

It was always going to be an uphill struggle and Strauss-Kahn knew it, giving confident responses – often with a humourous twinkle in his eye – under cross-examinations that included the most lurid and damaging of details.

Co-defendants stammering and intimidated

His professional coolness – possibly the result of a long and successful political career – put him in stark contrast to three of his co-accused: friends (including a senior police officer) who shared his taste for group sex and stammered their responses, often visibly intimidated by the proceedings.

One even told the court he had been “crying for three years” since the investigation began.

By the time the trial was in motion, the prosecution knew full well that convicting DSK was going to be a near-impossible task.

On the day when the most crucial evidence against him was read to the court – intercepted SMS messages that detailed enthusiastic planning for sex parties in Paris, Washington and Brussels – aggressive deputy prosecutor Aline Clérot, who had grilled DSK’s co-defendants with merciless sarcasm and disdain, didn’t ask him a single question.

‘Pure and simple’

The following week, plaintiffs including former prostitutes and one association, who had claimed DSK knew perfectly well that he was involved in an illegal prostitution ring, announced they were no longer pursuing charges against him.

Other defendants, notably Dominique Alderweireld (nicknamed Dodo the Pimp) who is accused of shipping prostitutes from his Belgian brothels to the northern French city of Lille where the investigation began, face prison sentences of up to 10 years for procurement of prostitutes.

But for Strauss-Kahn, the prosecution on Tuesday raised its hands in defeat and told judges it was seeking an acquittal, “pure and simple”.

Lille prosecutor Frédéric Fèvre told the court that “just because a man is powerful, it does not make him automatically guilty”.

“The inclusion of Mr Strauss-Kahn has given this case over-inflated political, media and moral dimensions,” he said. “Without him, it would have been concluded long ago without any of the public attention.”

"A trial can only convict where there is proof, not on the benefit of a doubt," he added. "I have heard nothing in these proceedings that proves Dominique Strauss-Kahn is guilty."

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