A French court acquitted former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of procuring prostitutes Friday, in a case that dragged his colourful sex life into the public eye.
The verdict draws a line under four years of legal proceedings for a man whose strong prospects of becoming French president were destroyed by a New York chamber maid’s accusations of sexual assault in 2011.
In a court in the northern city of Lille, 66-year-old Strauss-Kahn merely nodded his head to acknowledge the verdict of not guilty to charges of “aggravated pimping” at parties in Paris, Brussels and Washington.
One of Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers, Richard Malka, said the case had collapsed “like a house of cards” after even the prosecutor called for him to be let off due to a lack of evidence that he had organised or profited from prostitution.
Chief judge Bernard Lemaire ruled that Strauss-Kahn was not the “instigator” of orgies attended by prostitutes but merely the “beneficiary of group sex”.
The trial was the latest in a long series of high-profile corruption and sexual scandals that have landed Strauss-Kahn in the dock in the past 16 years, only to fizzle out.
Strauss-Kahn saw his career as the head of the International Monetary Fund implode over the accusations in New York.
Those criminal charges were dropped in 2012 and the case was settled in a civil suit, but soon afterwards his name cropped up in a probe into an alleged prostitution ring in northern France, which provided sex workers for orgies he attended.
Under French law, prostitution is legal, but procuring and benefiting from it is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
– ‘Rough’ sexuality on trial –
The trial heard lurid details of champagne-fuelled orgies attended by Strauss-Kahn, as his lawyers accused the prosecution of putting his morals, and prostitution itself, on trial.
Strauss-Kahn said that while he was a libertine who enjoyed group sex, he was unaware any of the women attending the parties had been paid to be there.
Judge Lemaire said there had been several inconsistencies in the testimony of former prostitutes who attended the parties and gave dramatic accounts of nights of “carnage”.
The women said Strauss-Kahn would have been “naive” to be unaware of their role and recounted brutal scenes of sodomy, angering the accused who said he was not on trial for “deviant practices”.
“I must have a sexuality which, compared to average men, is more rough. Women have the right not to like that, whether they are prostitutes or not,” he said.
He said the use of prostitutes “horrified” him and that paying for sex would be too great a risk for a man at the head of the IMF, which was busy “saving the world” from the financial crisis.
– ‘Private life on show’ –
The two ex-prostitutes who testified dropped a civil lawsuit against Strauss-Kahn, with their lawyers conceding they lacked enough proof to win the case.
“We put a man’s private life on show, with no respect for him, with no dignity, with no usefulness, and that is what this verdict means,” Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer Malka said.
Strauss-Kahn was in the dock alongside a colourful cast of 13 characters also accused of taking part in a prostitution ring, including hoteliers and police officers.
Twelve were acquitted over the presence of prostitutes at lunchtime sex parties held at the upmarket Carlton hotel in Lille, with the court ruling they were merely “clients”.
“I’m very happy. I was expecting a prison sentence,” said brothel owner Dominique Alderweireld, known as “Dodo the Pimp”.
The only one of the accused to be convicted was Rene Kojfer, the former public relations manager of the Carlton who arranged for prostitutes working with Alderweireld to attend the orgies. He received a one-year suspended sentence.
Strauss-Kahn’s case overlapped with that known as the “Carlton affair” as he was friends with some of the others accused, who admitted bringing prostitutes to sex parties to curry favour with him.
It is unclear what the acquittal means for Strauss-Kahn, a former star of the Socialist party, but a poll before the trial showed 56 percent of French people questioned had no desire to see him return to politics and saw him as immoral and a misogynist.
However, 79 percent of people questioned thought Strauss-Kahn would have been a better president than the deeply unpopular Francois Hollande.