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LILLE, France - Dominique Strauss-Kahn has played down his alleged role in sex parties with prostitutes, telling a court he did not know they were being paid and that the frequency of the evenings had been wildly exaggerated.
The 65-year-old former head of the International Monetary Fund is accused of instigating about a dozen parties involving prostitutes between 2008-2011 in Washington, Brussels, Paris and the northern French city of Lille.
"When you read the criminal complaint you get the impression it was this frenetic activity," said Strauss-Kahn. "But it was four times a year, not more than that. It wasn't this out-of-control activity that the complaint suggests."
Strauss-Kahn was tipped to become French president before being accused of sexual assault by a New York hotel chambermaid in 2011. U.S. criminal charges were dropped, with allegations that he participated in a French sex ring emerging later.
Several topless protesters from the FEMEN group with slogans painted in black on their chests and torsos had earlier thrown themselves on Strauss-Kahn's car as it arrived at court.
Strauss-Kahn's lawyers acknowledge their client took part in sex parties but say he did not know the women were prostitutes and so reject the charge against him of pimping, or in legal terms "procuring with aggravating circumstances."
A woman who testified that she was hired to have sex with Strauss-Kahn said he must have known that he was dealing with prostitutes.
“There were activities ... against nature. I wasn't used to doing things of that nature," said the woman, speaking softly and hesitantly. "It wasn't violence, it was a relationship of force."
Strauss-Kahn could face 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $1.72 million if convicted.