Friday 19 January 2018

DSK's 'tawdry' appetites have shocked even France

Strauss-Kahn's reputation is likely to be ­destroyed even if he is acquitted

The Lille court case is likely to destroy Mr Strauss-Kahn's future for good, even if his top barristers manage to win an acquittal (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
The Lille court case is likely to destroy Mr Strauss-Kahn's future for good, even if his top barristers manage to win an acquittal (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Anne Sinclair and ex-husband Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Photo: Getty Images

Anne-Elisabeth Moutet

As ironies go, it may have been among the most painful. In the very week when a disgraced Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), the former chief of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and one-time French presidential hopeful, had to answer to a Lille criminal court to the charge of "aggravated pimping", a gleeful French press announced that the woman who set his vertiginous fall from grace in motion, Nafissatou Diallo, was proving herself more astute at business than DSK is.

With the reported $1.5m (€1.3m) she received in 2012 after Mr Strauss-Kahn allegedly assaulted her in a Manhattan hotel room, the hard-working Ms Diallo, a chambermaid who spent months in hiding from the media, opened a West African halal restaurant in the Bronx.

Chez Amina is open 22 hours a day and, according to the New York Times, it is now a favourite with locals, taxi-drivers from the five boroughs, and, this week, every representative of the French media, queueing up for its $12 fish and rice stew, $17 baked salmon with couscous, and a glimpse of the discreet Ms Diallo.

In France, meanwhile, 300 journalists won accreditation at the Lille courthouse, with over twice that number being refused due to lack of space.

The French remain fascinated by Mr Strauss-Kahn's seemingly endless woes. It is the national, must-watch slow-motion train crash of 'What Might Have Been'. Two-thirds of respondents still tell pollsters that DSK would have been a more competent president than Francois Hollande.

Mr Strauss-Kahn's grandiose plans to launch a $2bn international hedge fund were scuppered by the suicide last October of his partner, Thierry Leyne, who threw himself from the balcony of his 23rd-floor flat in a luxury Tel-Aviv tower, three days after DSK himself resigned from the board of their one-year-old joint venture. In recent weeks, several of the governments DSK advises on economic policy, most notably Sri Lanka, terminated their contracts with him.

Divorced from his glamorous wife Anne Sinclair, the editor of Huffington Post France, who supported him loyally throughout his costly New York legal battles, then dumped him the instant he was in the clear, DSK, once a pariah in Paris, had started going out again. Until recently, you could spot him at film premieres and Paris openings, always with a pretty woman on his arm. Back in October, he even attended a friend's birthday party along with Manuel Valls, the prime minister, and several MPs, ending a period of purdah.

If found guilty in Lille, Mr Strauss-Kahn faces a jail term of up to 10 years. "Aggravated pimping" in France means that he colluded with others to provide prostitutes to a group of people. In effect, this means that Mr Strauss-Kahn knew that when he attended swingers' parties, and requested for the arrangements to be made, in Paris or in Washington DC during his time at the head of the IMF, he knew that the women who were brought in were professionals, not, as he has always protested, like-minded souls with "libertine tastes".

Much has been made of DSK's quip "How could I tell their profession? Everyone was naked", at the time of his arraignment. His lawyers have already protested that the current case was only "trying to criminalise sexual appetite", something few in France would wish for.

Last week, after attending the first day of the proceedings, DSK vacated the stage for the first series of hearings. These, of the escort girls and the organisers, did not go well for him. Reported extensively by the Le Monde legal correspondent, Pascale Robert-Diard, with a Brechtian ear for dialogue and a Balzacian attention to detail, they appeared to show a brutal sex-obsessive who treated the girls like meat and enjoyed more than the illusion of forcing them. One woman spoke of "carnage" in a scene in which DSK allegedly simultaneously enjoyed the favours of eight girls.

Another sketched an unpleasant portrait by comparing him to her usual local clients. "These men didn't make us feel like dirt. They were polite. They had lunch, they offered us champagne; we were the dessert. They didn't go at us like a butcher."

Other stories, of how some of the girls went into prostitution after vainly looking for jobs for months in the depressed Lille region, cast a harsh light on this Socialist grandee and jet-setting international civil servant.

French people in the know had been aware for years that DSK had a bit of a "zipper problem". You'd be told of which expensive Parisian swingers' clubs he was a regular at (Les Chandelles on rue Therese), accurately, as it turned out, when the New York scandal triggered a series of revelations.

You'd hear which woman MP he had jumped at in a lift at the National Assembly (Aurelie Filippetti, later Mr Hollande's first minister for culture, who pledged afterwards never to let herself be "trapped in a room alone with DSK"). I myself know three women he had affairs with: they all like him to this day.

But all of this was supposed to be taking place between responsible adults, not to mention, most of the time, equals. DSK's affair with one of the IMF's economists, Dr Piroska Nagy, soon after he was appointed managing director, was swept under the carpet after Dr Nagy was shunted away to a plush job at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Even when Le Monde published a police file dating back to 2006, in which DSK had apparently been cautioned by police when being found with prostitutes in a parked car in the Bois de Boulogne, the general attitude was that this, while true, was little more than Nicolas Sarkozy's dirty tricks team getting ammunition for an election campaign. It wasn't much to get offended about. After all, one of France's literary bestsellers (700,000 copies and 33 translations) had been the 2001 The Sexual Life of Catherine M, in which the author, one of the country's most respected museum curators, told in crude detail of swingers' parties she shared with complete strangers in that very Bois de Boulogne.

But the harsh reality of DSK's out-of-control appetites has, for once, shocked the French. The sheer tawdriness of the New York case was already a turn-off, but at the time the effect was blunted by the knee-jerk anti-Americanism natural to the French: DSK's much photographed Manhattan "perp" walk made him a bit of a martyr in a country valuing respect and discretion at all times.

The Lille court case is likely to destroy Mr Strauss-Kahn's future for good, even if his top barristers manage to win an acquittal.

© Sunday Telegraph

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