PARIS—Back when randy old Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 65, was touted as the next president of France, and friends and would-be friends were inviting him constantly to orgies, one favorite venue was an “urban resort” just across the street from the French capital’s most famous winter circus. Whether he stopped in from time to time to watch the trapeze artists is not known, but there were plenty of acrobatics going on in the $5,000-a-night suite with its own little swimming pool. Mounia, a prostitute who testified against Strauss-Kahn in court Tuesday, described the sex as “brutal” and “animal.”
The French politician, who was head of the International Monetary Fund at the time, later admitted to his libertine ways. In fact, that’s his defense against charges of criminal activity. Libertinage is not a crime in this country. And luxury hotels were favorite haunts, including the W in D.C. with its inspirational view of the Washington Monument. But on busy days he would fit in desktop romps with willing, or not-so-willing-as-that, women of his acquaintance or his employ.
DSK, as everyone called him, seems really to have believed his big swinging shtick made him irresistible to women, including an illiterate widowed African immigrant maid in New York’s five-star Sofitel Hotel. In May 2011 she alleged that when she went to clean his room, he came out of the shower stark naked, cornered her, forced her into the hallway of his suite and onto her knees, made her fellate him, ejaculated in her mouth and tried to grab his way to her crotch but couldn’t get through the two pairs of pantyhose and the underwear she had on.
Berk! as the French say. Yuck. But a consensual yuck, DSK’s lawyers insisted.
Criminal charges in New York eventually were dropped because the district attorney decided the maid, Nafissatou Diallo, was an unreliable witness. That her record at the hotel was spotless was unavailing. Prosecutors acknowledged that her actions following the incident and all the physical evidence, including the DSK DNA she spit out, supported her claim. But as a desperate African hoping to live on her own in the United States and raise her daughter there, she had lied and fudged too many of her records to be convincing in court.
I was one of the few reporters who were able to interview Diallo before the prosecution folded, and I came away convinced that the basic elements of the story were true. A civil court probably would have come to the same conclusion, and, eventually, DSK reportedly settled a sizeable but undisclosed sum on Diallo rather than go to trial.
In any case, Strauss-Kahn resigned from the IMF. His political career ended (somewhat to the chagrin of the French, who still think he’d have been a better president than the current occupant of the Elysée Palace, François Hollande). And the world turned the page.
So now the Strauss-Kahn circus has moved to the dreary northwestern industrial city of Lille. The spectacle began outside the courthouse on Tuesday when activists from Femen, famous for baring their breasts in the name of women’s rights (and ample publicity), threw themselves on the hood and the windshield of DSK’s car as he arrived.
DSK, along with some buddies and sycophants and an admitted Belgian procurer known as “Dodo la Saumure,” is on trial in connection with many of those orgies. The charge against Strauss-Kahn is nothing less than “aggravated pimping.” He may not have made it to the presidency, but he used to be the “party king,” according to his accusers.
The legal case against DSK is not a strong one, in fact. The Lille prosecutors actually recommended the charges be dropped. The investigating magistrates overruled them and went ahead, but a conviction, which could carry a 10-year sentence, won’t come easily.
To prove its case against Strauss-Kahn, the government has to show that DSK knew that the women he was romping with, and met through people linked to the faded luxury Hotel Carlton in Lille, were prostitutes. His defense: He did not know and did not ask. The obvious truth: He didn’t care.
Strauss-Kahn told the court that he didn’t go to so many orgies, really. "The prosecution gives the impression of unbridled activity," he testified. "There were only 12 parties in total—that is four per year over three years." He saw them as “recreational sessions in a hectic life.” He was traveling a lot for the IMF (how much recreation he got outside of France and Washington is not clear) and, as he put it, “What I liked was a festive atmosphere before, after and even during sex.”
It wouldn’t have been so much fun, said Strauss-Kahn, if he’d known the women were prostitutes instead of the employees of his friends, as if that were just fine. On the stand his testimony sounded a bit wistful as he realized that his conquests at the orgies were not all that he’d imagined them to be.
DSK apparently did have his charms. Long before the Sofitel incident, he was infamous for grabbing any woman he felt he wanted, many of them intellectual and influential, and more than a few were more than accepting. I’ve known at least two of his former lovers, well-known figures in French literature and politics, respectively, and both said he was “a great seducer.” Needless to say, they did not want to be named. His now ex-wife, the rich and beautiful journalist Anne Sinclair, would seem to have been completely in his thrall for several years.
Today, DSK is considerably more reserved, but he’s been pretty slow to pull in his horns. One of his post-Sofitel lovers wrote an unpleasant book about him. (Memorable quote from their first meeting: “I would lick your eyelids,” he said, “take away your mascara and swallow at once!” Clearly this a man who puts the lécher in lechery.) His current companion is said to keep him on a tighter rein. “At a dinner party,” one of his friends tells me, “he doesn’t even look women in the eye, you know? He doesn’t dare.”