Police Question Strauss-Kahn In Prostitution Ring

Former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is being questioned by French police for his alleged involvement in a hotel prostitution ring. A lawyer for Strauss-Kahn says the former French presidential hopeful never knew the women at orgies he attended were prostitutes.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have more news for you today about Dominique Strauss-Kahn. You remember him, the former International Monetary Fund chief arrested last year and then released in a sexual assault case involving a New York hotel housekeeper. Now Mr. Strauss-Kahn faces new sexual misconduct allegations in France. He spent last night in a police holding cell and is being questioned again today. Eleanor Beardsley reports on his latest troubles.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (French spoken)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Once again, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is back in the news in France. This time, the former International Monetary Fund head is accused of being involved in a high-class prostitution ring operating in France and Belgium. French investigators suspect that a circle of business executives, in collusion with senior police officers, ran a network supplying escorts girls to sex parties that took place in Paris and Washington, D.C.

By his own admission, Strauss-Kahn participated in some of these libertine soirees, as they're being called. But he could face fines and serious prison time if it turns out he knew the women were prostitutes or knew that the parties and travel were funded by large French corporations. In France, it's illegal to use embezzled funds to pay prostitutes.

CHRISTOPHER MESNOOH: He's being heard on both of these charges: the procurement of prostitutes and the possession or misuse of corporate assets.

BEARDSLEY: That's Christopher Mesnooh, an American lawyer who practices in France.

French police questioned Strauss-Kahn for nine hours yesterday, and will continue today. Strauss-Kahn's lawyers say he did not know the women were prostitutes, and is eager to refute the allegations.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Watching the news reports showing journalists camped out in front of the police station and swarming around Strauss-Kahn's car, you can't help feeling a sense of astonishment that a man could fall so far, so fast.

Just one year ago, Strauss-Kahn was considered one of the world's most competent economists and the next French president. In May, that all fell apart when he was arrested in New York for allegedly assaulting a hotel housekeeper. Those charges were dropped, but new allegations dogged him when he returned to France.

Today, the French presidential race goes on without Strauss-Kahn, and no one even mentions his name, unless it's for a laugh. Journalist Jean-Marc Illouz says Strauss-Kahn's troubles are no longer taken seriously.

JEAN-MARC ILLOUZ: Well, obviously, this time DSK is no longer a political story, but only a court, a society story that reflects very poorly on the French political class in the middle of an election at a time when the economic situation is the thing that most matters.

BEARDSLEY: Though the French now seem numb to Strauss-Kahn's sex-capades, when the story broke last year in New York, it mattered a lot. The Strauss-Kahn saga divided people and shook up society. Lawyer Christopher Mesnooh says the scandal may have changed some things for good in France.

MESNOOH: I think it really has forced people here into thinking about where to put the line between how far do you go in protecting private life and how much information does the public have a right to know about its politicians.

BEARDSLEY: Eight people so far have been charged in the investigation into the prostitution ring. Analysts say whatever happens to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, his sex scandals have profoundly shaken the French people's confidence in their politicians when strong leadership has never been needed more.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR news, Paris.

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