On May 11, 2011, the world’s most powerful economist’s career exploded. Rumors and whispers had long followed Dominique Strauss-Kahn — he was a womanizer, a philanderer, an adulterer. But on that day in May, when New York police arrested the managing director of the International Monetary Fund on charges of sexual assault, another label was added to that list of allegations: rapist.
That case, which ignited a chain reaction of allegations against the French economist, was later dismissed — but not before Stauss-Kahn lost his $500,000-a-year job atop the IMF, which had brought him to the pinnacle of establishment power and prestige. Now nearly four years since that epic collapse, the silver-haired economist known as “DSK,” may yet have further to fall.
On Monday, the man many thought would one day be president of France will stand trial in the city of Lille in northern France. He’s faced with charges he helped procure sex workers for sex parties from Paris to Brussels to Washington. Dubbed the Carlton affair because it involves the Hotel Carlton in Lille, the case stars luxury hotel managers, freemasons, Viagra, purple carpet and even a brothel owner called “Dodo the Pimp” (Dodo la Saumure). In a charging document that runs 240 pages, French authorities said Strauss-Kahn may have helped organize the affairs, during which female attendants were allegedly paid to have sex with businessmen.
Strauss-Kahn has acknowledged participating in group sex, but denied being involved in prostitution. “I challenge you to tell the difference between a naked prostitute and a naked woman of the world,” his lawyer, Henri Leclerc, said in 2011, according to the Guardian.
French judges described Strauss-Kahn as the “king of the party” — the “linchpin” who orchestrated what amounted to “carnage on a pile of mattresses on the floor,” where Strauss-Kahn allegedly partook in “pure sexual consumption.” These were no ordinary swingers’ parties, a French legal document reported by the Telegraph said. It was “factory line sex” and “orders for services.”
But beyond its salacious aspects, the case is something of a crossroads for French society. Bolstered by strict privacy laws, French journalists long prized themselves on their discretion when it came to the personal lives of public figures. Leave the sensational sex scandals to the Americans and the Brits. Personal lives — like Strauss-Kahn’s — that brim with the lurid should stay in the shadows. Until it becomes a legal matter.
“If a politician is alcoholic, that’s his private life,” Christophe Barbier, editor of the L’Express, told Reuters in 2011. “If he walks the streets screaming out loud in the middle of the night and gets arrested by the police, we talk about it.”
Strauss-Kahn, a man married three times who doesn’t deny he loves a good sex party, now talks openly about his proclivities. “I long thought that I could lead my life as I wanted,” the New York Times quoted him in 2012. “And that includes free behavior between consenting adults. There are numerous parties that exist like this in Paris, and you would be surprised to encounter certain people. I was naive. I was too out of step with French society. I was wrong.”
But prosecutors are alleging what he did wasn’t just wrong — it was illegal. In France, prostitution is legal. But procuring it is not. And that represents the crux of the case: Strauss-Kahn admits attending the sex parties, which were reportedly posh, $13,000 affairs that called together international businessmen looking to ingratiate themselves with Strauss-Kahn. But the economist denies he either organized those soirees or had any knowledge women were paid to be there. He said prosecutors are trying to “criminalize lust.”
The drama ensnared Strauss-Kahn just as he was emerging from a 2011 New York scandal ignited by a 32-year-old Guinean maid who accused him of accosting her. In allegations later dismissed, she said he forced himself on her after he emerged from the shower. Then the economist was hit with more charges that he participated in the gang rape of a prostitute in a New York hotel room, allegations he denied that were later dropped as well.
This time, he hasn’t been as lucky. French authorities said they came across Strauss-Kahn by chance. In May of 2011, investigators were looking into an alleged prostitution ring in northern France. From there, some of the prostitutes started mentioning Strauss-Kahn’s name, Agence France-Presse reported. Soon he was the target a fresh investigation, which ultimately yielded allegations of “aggravated pimping in an organized group.”
Strauss-Kahn, who faces up to 10 years in prison, will have a chance to rebut those claims on Feb. 10, when he is expected to take the stand.