LILLE, France // The former chief of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was being held for questioning yesterday by French police investigating a suspected hotel prostitution ring.
Mr Strauss-Kahn, a one-time French presidential hopeful whose chances were derailed by a sexual assault accusation, arrived at the police station in the northern city of Lille yesterday morning.
French law permits police to question him for 48 hours, renewable once with a judge’s approval.
A magistrate would have to decide whether the evidence supports the charges or other potential offences. Then, if the judge agrees, he could be released on bail or remanded in custody pending an eventual trial.
Police are probing a suspected prostitution ring in France and neighbouring Belgium that has implicated police and other officials.
They have questioned prostitutes who said they had sex with Mr Strauss-Kahn during 2010 and 2011 at a hotel in Paris, a restaurant in the French capital and also in Washington DC.
Mr Strauss-Kahn lived in the US capital while he was head of the IMF before resigning his position in May after he was charged by New York police with making a hotel maid perform a sex act. The charges were later dropped.
Two men with ties to Mr Strauss-Kahn have been put under preliminary investigation in France on charges including organising a prostitution ring and misuse of corporate funds.
Mr Strauss-Kahn’s name surfaced in the probe last year and his lawyer asked that Mr Strauss-Kahn be allowed to tell his side of the story.
One of Mr Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers has said that the former French presidential hopeful did not know that the women at the orgies he attended were prostitutes.
“He could easily not have known because, as you can imagine, at these kinds of parties you’re not always dressed. I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman,” Henri Leclerc told French radio Europe 1 in December.
French newspapers have dubbed the investigation “the Carlton affair” after the name of the expensive Lille hotel where some of the meetings took place.
Paying a prostitute is not in itself illegal in France, but profiting from vice or embezzling company funds to pay for sex can lead to charges.
The former IMF director has admitted he has had an adventurous sex life, but denies that he was implicated in pimping or corruption and has indicated he would deny any criminal wrongdoing.
In all, eight people have been charged in connection with the “Carlton affair” – including three executives from the luxury hotel itself, a leading lawyer and the local deputy police chief.
On May 14 last year, Mr Strauss-Kahn’s career fell apart when he was arrested in New York following sexual assault allegations.
The case against him collapsed when prosecutors began to doubt the victim’s credibility as a witness, and Mr Strauss-Kahn returned home to France to face further investigations and scandal.
Mr Strauss-Kahn’s multimillionaire heiress wife, journalist Anne Sinclair, has stood by him since the scandal erupted, but the website she edits – the French edition of the Huffington Post – led its front page with the scandal. She made no editorial comment.
The involvement of businessmen and police officers raised suspicions that they intended to curry favour with a presidential contender by procuring women for him, but they are reported to have denied this during questioning.
* With additional report from Agence France-Presse