Image: Dominique Strauss Khan arrives at a police station in Lille, northern France
Michel Spingler  /  AP
Former International Monetary Fund leader, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, arrives at a police station in Lille, northern France, on Tuesday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/21/2012 2:37:08 PM ET 2012-02-21T19:37:08

Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was questioned by police on Tuesday over his dealings with an alleged prostitution ring that was run from the northern French city of Lille and organized sex parties in Paris, Brussels and Washington.

Strauss-Kahn, a former finance minister seen as a strong contender for France's 2012 presidential election until a sexual assault case in New York last May brought his ambitions to an abrupt halt, was to remain in police custody overnight and could be held until Thursday morning.

The investigation is focused on a prostitution ring that allegedly supplied clients of Lille's luxury Carlton hotel. Police want to establish whether Strauss-Kahn knew that women at parties he attended in Paris and Washington were prostitutes.

He could be deemed free of suspicion, or may be placed under formal investigation for benefitting from misappropriated company funds if investigators conclude that he attended sex sessions with prostitutes that company executives used expense accounts to pay for.

Either way, he could face an uncomfortably timed release from custody on Thursday, with President Nicolas Sarkozy, who he once dreamed of ousting from power, due to arrive in Lille that day for a pre-planned election campaign visit.

Strauss-Kahn made no comment to a crush of reporters and photographers as he arrived by chauffer-driven limousine for questioning early on Tuesday at Lille police station.

Strauss-Kahn, 62, quit his International Monetary Fund post after he was accused last May of trying to rape a New York chambermaid, although criminal charges were later dropped.

Strauss-Kahn admits 'moral failing'

Linked later to the Lille affair, Strauss-Kahn asked to speak to police about the case.

Strauss-Kahn's lawyer Henri Leclerc has said his client had no reason to think the women were prostitutes.

"People are not always clothed at these parties. I challenge you to tell the difference between a nude prostitute and a classy lady in the nude," Leclerc told French radio in December.

Living in the shadows
Eight people, including two Lille businessmen close to Strauss-Kahn and a police commissioner, have been arrested in the case, and construction firm Eiffage fired an executive suspected of using company funds to hire sex workers.

Using prostitutes is not illegal in France, but Strauss-Kahn risks being charged if investigators decide he knowingly had sex with prostitutes paid for out of company funds.

Belgian pimp Dominique Alderweireld, who often appears in French media under his nickname "Dodo la Saumure," told Europe 1 radio on Tuesday that Strauss-Kahn might not have given much thought to who, if anyone, had paid the women at the parties.

"It wasn't his problem. All he was interested in was having sex. That's it," he said.

Video: Does video show a Strauss-Kahn set-up? (on this page)

Strauss-Kahn is quoted in a biography by Michel Taubmann published last year that he had taken part in "libertine soirees" but was disgusted by the idea of prostitutes and pimping. "It's not my thing," he said.

"Usually, people at these soirees are not prostitutes," Strauss-Kahn is quoted as saying. "When somebody introduces you to his girlfriend, you don't ask him if she's a prostitute."

Video: DSK Accuser Comes Forward (on this page)

While his wife Anne Sinclair has revived her career as a journalist with a new job as news editor at an upcoming French-language version of the Huffington Post, Strauss-Kahn has gone from a life at the heart of France's intellectual and social elite to living largely in the shadows.

Photographed occasionally out and about in Paris, recently in a scruffy dark grey anorak, he is starting to make a comeback on the international speech circuit but is otherwise rarely seen on the social circuit.

He is often parodied on "Les Guignols", a television program that uses puppets to satirize politicians, portrayed as a skirt-chaser always wearing a leopard-print bathrobe.

Attempted-rape accusations brought against Strauss-Kahn last year by a Parisian writer were shelved by police in October.

The New York maid, Nafissatou Diallo, is pursuing a civil action against him.

Reuters and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

Video: Does video show a Strauss-Kahn set-up?

  1. Closed captioning of: Does video show a Strauss-Kahn set-up?

    >>> now for the first time we're seeing video surveillance footage from the hotel where former imf chief dominique strauss-kahn was accused of assaulting a maid. that tape is now lead to go new questions about this case. michael isakoff is joining us with details.

    >> reporter: good morning, ann. newly surfaced video from inside a hotel is adding mystery to a sex scandal that brought down one of the world's most influential figures. at 1:29 p.m . on may 14th , a call to the police from this upscale hotel .

    >> toipt report a domestic -- i'm sorry, a sexual assault .

    >> reporter: nbc news has obtained hotel video taken at the french owned hotel calls 911.

    >> one of our room attendants, apparently she was assaulted by one of the guests.

    >> the defendant is charged with --

    >> reporter: the guest, dominique strauss-kahn . at the time the managing director of the international monetary fund and a man who could be the next president of france . and just two minutes after that phone call , a surprising reaction inside the hotel . t two officials do what looks like a victory dance .

    >> it looks like they are celebrating a 911 call that is going to set in motion a -- a change in the entire political system of france .

    >> reporter: lawyers for strauss-kahn and his political supporters have now seized on this video to argue that the sex charge against him may have been a political dirty the trick, facilitated by hotel security officials at the possible direction of associates of french president nicolas sarkozy . it's a major story in france . but is being adamantly denied by sarkozy's office and a u.s. legal adviser to the a.c.o.r.n. group, the french company that owns sofitel.

    >> the notion that this is involved in some conspiracy is utter nonsense.

    >> reporter: why were they celebrating?

    >> they don't remember specifically why, but they just heard that this housekeeper finally decided to allow the hotel to call 911 and they were relieved.

    >> reporter: the housekeeper who first made the allegation is pursuing a civil lawsuit against strauss-kahn . wednesday, her lawyers denounced the conspiracy claims.

    >> nasi dialo had nothing to do with any type of dancing, any gestures that suggest she's not telling the truth.

    >> reporter: but after first indicting strauss-kahn for sexual assault , prosecutors later dropped all charges against him, saying diallo had repeatedly lied to him. strauss-kahn admitted there was a sexual encounter , but said he was enticed. he gave his version of events to michelle taudman for a new book.

    >> at the moment he was coming out of the shower, he met mrs. diallo. she was in his bedroom. she looked at him and she proposed him to have sexual relation . and mr. strauss-kahn , who is a womanizer, he's a man who never refuse these kind of relations.

    >> reporter: sources tell nbc news that strauss-kahn 's lawyers are hoping to use the new video to argue in the civil suit that did i allo was part of a honey trap designed to destroy his political career. for their part, diallo's lawyers hope to prove her claims are true by showing strauss-kahn has a history of being a sexual predator . ann.

    >> thank you so much.

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