The strange survival of Dominique Strauss-Kahn
His political career may be in tatters, but despite numerous scandals involving allegations of sexual violence and pimping, the former IMF director is still eluding conviction
Hulking presence: Dominique Strauss-Kahn was at the centre of the trial, just as he had been the focal point at the orgies held for his benefit. Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters
New partner: Dominique Strauss-Kahn with Myriam L’Aouffir at the Deauville American Film Festival. Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty
Part of The Death of Sardanapalus, by Eugène Delacroix: one lawyer called Strauss-Kahn “the Sardanapalus of modern times”. The ancient Assyrian king was known for luxury, sloth and decadence. Photograph: Fine Art/Heritage/Getty
For much of the past three weeks Dominique Strauss-Kahn sat on the front row of a cold, spartan underground courtroom in the French provinces, charged, alongside 13 codefendants, with aggravated pimping.
The former French finance minister and former director of the International Monetary Fund was, with his hooded eyes and hulking presence, at the centre of the trial, its pivot, just as he had been the focal point at the orgies held for his benefit.
Strauss-Kahn toyed with his wristwatch and smartphone, looking bored. Occasionally he would chew gum or pick his nose. But he never flinched, never showed remorse. Not for a moment did he think they’d convict him.
The fragile case against Strauss-Kahn crumpled like a souffle when no one challenged him on evidence the investigating magistrates had used to build their case. On February 16th five of the six civil plaintiffs withdrew their lawsuits. The following day the prosecutor, Frédéric Fèvre, said that “neither the judiciary investigation nor the trial established proof of guilt”.
“The case collapsed!” Strauss-Kahn’s main lawyer, Henri Leclerc, the 80-year-old former president of the Human Rights League, crowed. Leclerc quoted the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man: “Anything that is not forbidden by law cannot be impeded.”
Weeks will pass before the judgment is handed down, but no one expects Strauss-Kahn to be convicted. As the trial closed on Friday, criticism focused on the investigating magistrates who so liberally interpreted the law against pimping, and who did not participate in the trial.
The public exposure of Strauss-Kahn’s sexuality had, according to one of his lawyers, Richard Malka, “turned 60 million French people into voyeurs”.
The magistrates claimed that Strauss-Kahn’s sexual practices proved he knew his partners were prostitutes. So the court was dragged into territory that Judge Bernard Lemaire wanted to avoid, into every lurid detail of the orgies in which Strauss-Kahn participated.
Former prostitutes wept as they described the humiliation of being sodomised by Strauss-Kahn. “Jade”, his main accuser, told how another prostitute was punished with a sex toy after wounding Strauss-Kahn with a piercing in her tongue.
“It was fairly violent,” Jade said.
The trial made a mockery of socialists as champions for the poor and downtrodden. Jade responded to an advertisement for escort girls because her fridge was empty.
Strauss-Kahn didn’t want to help her. Strauss-Kahn mesmerised the court with his velvety voice and razor-sharp mind. Calm, arrogant and totally self-confident, he demolished testimony against him, almost imperceptibly playing with facts.
The man once responsible for the world financial system was sloppy at maths, though: Strauss-Kahn reduced 15 orgies to a mere dozen. Jade testified she’d been hired “for DSK” on three occasions, in Paris, Belgium and Washington DC.
If she’d been hired for his benefit, why did they have sex only once, Strauss-Kahn asked. There were actually three encounters. At the first Jade performed oral sex on Strauss-Kahn. He sodomised her at the second, and at the third he frolicked naked in a king-size bed with Jade and an African woman he’d brought to Jade’s Washington hotel suite.
Marcela Iacub, the Argentinian writer who in 2013 published Beauty and Beast, about her affair with Strauss-Kahn, described him as “a dual creature, half-man, half-pig”.
Emmanuel Daoud, the lawyer for the Le Nid association, which helps former prostitutes, called Strauss-Kahn “the Sardanapalus of modern times”. The ancient Assyrian king was known for luxury, sloth and decadence. Physical gratification was the only purpose of life, Sardanapalus wrote in his own epitaph.
“When I saw Mr Strauss-Kahn the first day I had a vision of the erotic drawings that Picasso made of the Minotaur,” said Gilles Maton, also a lawyer, referring to the half-man, half-bull of Greek myth. “He symbolised the all-powerful brutality to which one sacrifices young women for initiatory rites.”
The trial in Lille was as much about power as it was about sex; about the courtesans who clung to Strauss-Kahn’s coat tails, about his cynicism and impunity.
“When you’re a professional politician . . . you’re invited, courted,” Maton explained. “You don’t often pay, not for hotels or restaurants, certainly not for women. That’s what’s going to save him.”
“Ah! Isn’t power great!” Jean-Christophe Lagarde, the division police commissioner whose mistress Florence was a prostitute at Strauss-Kahn’s parties, sighed after a night of sex and champagne at an orgy in Washington.
Strauss-Kahn retained something of the aura of a master of the universe as he argued that he’d been too busy saving the world from financial collapse to hire prostitutes for orgies. The prosecutor bought the argument. “As director of the IMF his work schedule left him no respite,” Fèvre said in summing up. “The accused did not give instructions.”
Power was the magnet that drew the actual pimps to Strauss-Kahn. “If Mr Strauss-Kahn reached a certain high position,” said David Roquet, a former executive with one of France’s leading construction companies, referring to the presidency of France, “I could introduce him to my bosses and they would be grateful.”
Fèvre asked for two-year suspended sentences and €20,000 each in fines for Roquet and Fabrice Paszkowski, who ran a medical equipment firm. The businessmen charged €82,500 in fees for prostitutes and orgies on expense accounts.
Strauss-Kahn earned nearly $500,000 a year as the director of the IMF, but he was “stingy, not the kind to pay for sexual relations”, Paszkowski testified. Strauss-Kahn shared that trait with René Kojfer, the hotel public-relations manager and two-bit pimp in Lille at the other end of the chain. Kojfer boasted of being a “free tester” of prostitutes for his lifelong friend “Dodo la Saumure” (nickname of Strauss-Kahn’s codefendant Dominique Alderweireld, the owner of brothels in Belgium).
Strauss-Kahn didn’t love women; he loved sex. The former prostitutes who testified against him said they were treated as objects, little more than body orifices. Asked why he did not stop sodomising a prostitute who was crying, Strauss-Kahn said he hadn’t noticed her distress. “It would have turned me off,” he added.
When he was finance minister, a leading financial newspaper ruled that no female reporter should interview Strauss-Kahn alone. The former France Inter radio presenter Stéphane Guillon broke the silence in 2009. Minutes before Strauss-Kahn was to be interviewed live, Guillon joked that “female members of staff have been ordered to wear long, dark outfits, totally anti-sex. Leather, high heels and chic underwear have been forbidden.”
For such frankness, Guillon was eventually fired.
The media silence – one lawyer referred to it as omerta – surrounding Strauss-Kahn’s sex addiction was a form of complicity, justified as respect for the private lives of politicians.
A former socialist cabinet minister tells how Strauss-Kahn shouted his hotel room number to women at party congresses. “What, Dominique? No dinner? No flowers?” one joked.
He still attracts women. Since September 2012 the 65-year-old has appeared at film festivals and a tennis tournament with his new companion, Myriam L’Aouffir, a 46-year-old Moroccan-born businesswoman.
A Paris publisher who lunched with Strauss-Kahn recently says that when she left the table several women rushed to give him their phone numbers.
The Sunday Times used the Strauss-Kahn saga as evidence that French women tolerate serial infidelity and like being “doormats”. Strauss-Kahn’s third wife, Anne Sinclair, stood by him when he was accused of assaulting the New York hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo at the Sofitel hotel in 2011.
What did an attractive, intelligent art heiress see in DSK?
Marcela Iacub, who had a seven-month affair with Strauss-Kahn after the Sofitel scandal, discussed him with Sinclair while the couple were still married. “There’s nothing wrong with getting a blow job from a cleaning lady,” Sinclair said. For Sinclair, Iacub wrote, “The world is divided into masters and servants”.
Had it not been for the New York incident Strauss-Kahn would almost certainly have been elected president of France.
“You would have transformed the Élysée into a giant swingers’ club,” Iacub wrote. “You would have used your assistants and flunkies to organise orgies, as experts in the art of satisfying your dark urges.”
In an opinion poll published by Le Parisien newspaper on the eve of the trial, 79 per cent of respondents said Strauss-Kahn would have been a better president than François Hollande. “We would have had two years of very important reforms,” one of Strauss-Kahn’s former fellow cabinet ministers speculated. “Then it would have all come crashing down in an enormous sex scandal.”
The same poll showed that 44 per cent of the French still have a favourable opinion of Strauss-Kahn. On the day that Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers pleaded, a law student asked Strauss-Kahn to sign his copy of the criminal code. The accused did so, with a smile.
Whatever nostalgia the French feel for Strauss-Kahn is based on his reputation as an economist. Hollande sent Strauss-Kahn, who speaks German fluently, as an envoy to Angela Merkel after his disgrace in the Sofitel scandal. The French prime minister, Manuel Valls, is today struggling to govern according to Strauss-Kahn’s “social-liberal” philosophy.
It now appears that Strauss-Kahn may not be such a brilliant economist either. Leyne Strauss-Kahn and Partners, the financial company he founded with a Franco-Israeli businessman, Thierry Leyne, went bankrupt last November. “I lost time, money and, doubtless, some of my reputation,” Strauss-Kahn said in court. Leyne took his own life in Tel Aviv. The DSK Global Investment Fund Limited, founded by Strauss-Kahn in the tax haven of Guernsey, is also in liquidation.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn was 11 years old when an earthquake levelled his parents’ building in Agadir, Morocco. The family happened to be away. Strauss-Kahn has believed in his luck ever since.
As a French politician, he emerged unscathed from the Mnef, Méry and Elf financial scandals. He survived revelations about an affair with a Hungarian employee at the IMF, avoided trial and made an out-of-court settlement with his accuser in New York, and was saved by the statute of limitations in a suit for sexual assault in Paris.
Anyone who believed the trial in Lille would finally destroy him was mistaken.
DSK: How the case against him crumpled
Dominique Strauss-Kahn was charged with aggravated pimping in connection with at least 15 orgies in Paris, Belgium, Lille and Washington DC between March 2008 and May 2011. The main elements of the case against him were:
Strauss-Kahn must have known that the young women who participated in orgies organised by his friends were prostitutes. Thirty-seven text messages between Strauss-Kahn and Paszkowski, in which they referred to women as “equipment” and “gifts”, were submitted as evidence. But money was never mentioned. Strauss-Kahn claimed he believed the women were “libertines” seeking sexual pleasure. His friends said they did not want the IMF director to think they were incapable of persuading women to participate in the soirées , so they hired prostitutes without telling him.
Paying a prostitute is not an offence in France; benefiting from prostitution is. As he did not pay for the women’s services, Strauss-Kahn benefited from prostitution, investigating magistrates reasoned.
The magistrates argued that Strauss- Kahn’s preference for sodomy meant he needed to use prostitutes. But prostitutes testified that they rejected such “animal acts”, undermining this argument.
Strauss-Kahn rented a Paris apartment under a friend’s name. The law says that providing a locale for prostitution constitutes pimping. Although sex parties took place there, the presiding judge accepted that Strauss-Kahn did not rent the flat expressly for that purpose.
Prosecutor Frédéric Fèvre concluded: “Did Dominique Strauss-Kahn organise these meetings? The answer is no. Did he benefit financially from prostitution? The answer is no. Did he pay the prostitutes? The answer is no. Did he procure prostitutes for others? The answer is no. Did he provide shelter for prostitution? The answer is no.”