Sordid claims and dark jokes mark start of Strauss-Kahn trial

Former IMF director faces up to 10 years in jail if guilty of ‘aggravated pimping’ charges

French-born pimp and defendant Dominique Alderweireld arriving at the Lille courthouse as the “Carlton” case trial began on Monday. Photograph: Francois Lo Presti/AFP/Getty Images

Dominique Strauss-Kahn arrived in a car with tinted windows for the first day of his trial for “aggravated pimping”. He was driven into a car park beneath the courthouse, and allowed to enter the basement courtroom through a side door, to avoid the horde of photographers and cameramen.

The former International Monetary Fund director and presidential hopeful sat down on the wrong side of the courtroom, on the bench reserved for Melanie, Mounia, Sabrina and Sandrine, four prostitutes who are civil plaintiffs in the case. A magistrate showed him to his front-row seat alongside 13 co-defendants. Strauss-Kahn’s glance never crossed those of the women who accuse him.

Strauss-Kahn sat next to his decade-long friend and co-defendant Fabrice Pazskowski, a former socialist party militant and businessman who was, according to court documents, the "orchestra conductor" for 20 orgies involving Strauss-Kahn between late 2006 and May 2011, in Belgium, Lille, Paris and Washington.

The last orgy, in Washington DC on May 13th, 2011, occurred the day before Strauss-Kahn was arrested on charges of assaulting a maid at the Sofitel in New York. Sandrine, one of Strauss-Kahn's accusers, was photographed with him in his IMF office.


Libertine evenings

Police commissioner Jean-Christophe Lagarde, who was in charge of security for the entire Nord-Pas-de-Calais department, sat directly behind Strauss-Kahn. Lagarde attended Strauss-Kahn’s “




”, including the trips to Washington. He was to have been the adviser on security matters for Strauss-Kahn’s presidential campaign.

“Aggravated pimping” means that more than one prostitute was involved. Strauss-Kahn is specifically accused of “aiding, abetting or protecting” the prostitution of seven women with whom he had sexual relations.

That’s not counting several “girlfriends” whom Strauss-Kahn is accused of bringing to orgies, including Imée, a switchboard operator at a radio station, and Sylvie, who said she received a €1,200 pair of boots for attending an orgy in Strauss-Kahn’s Paris apartment. If she became his regular mistress, it is alleged Strauss-Kahn promised Sylvie he would “teach her new sex games”, including taking her blindfolded to the Bois de Boulogne where he could watch other men have sex with her.

In court documents, several prostitutes spoke of "brutal" treatment by Strauss-Kahn, and his alleged preference for sodomy. Marie-Anne said she was "violently" sodomised against her will in a "bestial" evening in Washington in December 2010. David Roquet, a businessman and co-defendant of Strauss-Kahn, went to the hotel bathroom to fetch a jar of body lotion, then held her down, according to documents.

Marie-Anne abandoned a lawsuit for rape, but refused to participate in subsequent orgies with Strauss-Kahn, the document say.

Defence lawyers complained that such details were a violation of the defendants’ privacy. The first time Sandrine encountered Strauss-Kahn at the Hotel Murano in Paris in March 2009, she did not have sex with him because “there were seven or eight girls taking care of him and there were no condoms . . . It was like butchery.”

Despite the sordid subject matter, there were humorous moments on the first day of the trial. The prostitutes requested to testify behind close doors, to spare their dignity. “I know that little girls dream of becoming princesses, not prostitutes,” the prosecutor said, provoking laughter in the courtroom. The request was rejected.

When a defence lawyer noted that the socialist cabinet minister Ségolène Royal also asked that proceedings be closed to the press and public, so children would not hear about it, Strauss-Kahn could be seen laughing.

Defence lawyers pleaded unsuccessfully for the entire trial to be cancelled, on the grounds that wire taps began in June 2010, eight months before the official investigation was launched. Such “administrative wiretaps” must be approved by the prime minister. The conservative UMP was then in power, and the implication was that the Sarkozy administration was “fishing” for evidence against Strauss-Kahn to sabotage his bid for the presidency in 2012.

One of the most colourful characters in the courtroom is Dominique Alderweireld, better known as "Dodo la Saumure". (Saumure is the brine used to cure mackerel, the French slang word for pimp.) Dodo runs several bordellos in Belgium, and provided most of the women who were "consumed" by Strauss-Kahn.

He told La Voix du Nord newspaper he is afraid Strauss-Kahn will "damage my reputation". Belgian authorities forced him to change the name of his "DSKlub" which he said stood for "Dodo sex club". Dodo's girlfriend, Béatrice Legrain, is also charged with pimping. Dodo is a childhood friend of René Kojfer, the former head of public relations at the Hotel Carlton in Lille. It is alleged Kojfer used call-girls from Dodo's network to "garnish" hotel rooms in Lille, then took a 10 per cent commission on the price of the rooms.

None of the orgies in which Strauss-Kahn is accused of participating took place at the Carlton, but the trial is nonetheless named after the luxury hotel. Several men accused of involvement in the prostitution ring were freemasons, including police commissioner Lagarde.

Pazskowski and another businessman friend of Strauss-Kahn, David Roquet, is alleged to have asked Kojfer to procure women for parties with Strauss-Kahn. Pazskowski and Roquet are also charged with fraud, because they claimed a €82,500 in entertainment expenses for call-girls, restaurants and train and plane tickets linked with Strauss-Kahn. The one defendant who is not accused of "aggravated pimping" was Roquet's boss at the public works company Eiffage. He is accused of knowingly signing off the expenses.

Pimping vs prostitution use

Strauss-Kahn does not dispute the deeds outlined in court documents, though he says he cannot remember all the orgies. He admits to “


” but denies having known the women he had sex with were prostitutes. Pimping is illegal in


; hiring prostitutes is not.

If convicted, Strauss-Kahn risks up to 10 years in jail and a €1.5 million fine. But he might well be cleared. His lawyer, Henri Leclerc, is one of France's best-known human rights lawyers and has a reputation for turning down defendants he believes guilty.

The court disagreed with the investigating magistrates who pressed charges, saying Strauss-Kahn was “a beneficiary” of prostitution not a pimp.

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is an Irish Times contributor