Two employees of the Sofitel hotel in New York walk into what appears to be a storage room, exchange a few words, and then break into a “dance of joy” – as it is has been termed in the French media – ending with an emphatic shoulder bump. The entire sequence, captured by a Sofitel security camera, lasts barely ten seconds and there is no soundtrack on the video and hence no way of knowing what exactly inspired the two men’s good cheer. Nonetheless, the leaked footage has revived longstanding rumors that former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was the victim of a “conspiracy” to derail his French presidential aspirations last May, when, on his account, he accepted a Sofitel maid’s generous offer of some quick oral gratification just prior to check-out – and famously found himself arrested and accused of sexual assault a few hours later.
The buzz surrounding the footage was heightened by the publication about a week prior to its release of an “investigative report” by Edward Jay Epstein. Epstein’s report appeared in the New York Review of Books, thus adding an unusual touch of gravitas to his findings. Epstein does not name his sources, but it is obvious that he enjoyed the cooperation of Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers. It was presumably the latter who fed Epstein the evidence cited in his article. After all, who else – apart from the supposedly “incriminated” hotel management – would have had access to Sofitel security camera footage? This makes it all the more curious that Epstein claimed that the allegedly suspicious employee “dance” scene lasted a full three minutes.
But if Dominique Strauss-Kahn was indeed the victim of a conspiracy in New York in May, then, in light of more recent developments in France, it is clear that the greatest beneficiary of this conspiracy will turn out to have been none other than Strauss-Kahn’s own Socialist party. For in the meanwhile, Strauss-Kahn became engulfed in yet another sex-related crime investigation is his native country. Had he managed to resist temptation and avoid the “trap” at the Sofitel, he might then have returned home to win the French Socialist primaries in October, as it was widely expected before the Sofitel incident that he would. In that case, the French Socialist party would today find itself stuck with a presidential candidate who risks facing charges not of sexual assault, but “merely” of aiding and abetting in the organization of a prostitution ring. No wonder, then, that one Socialist party activist, cited by the French newsweekly L’Express, has suggested that the Socialists should “put up a statue to Nafissatou Diallo,” the Sofitel maid.
Strauss-Kahn refrained from jumping back into the fray of the Socialist primaries after New York prosecutors dropped charges against him in August. The fact that he still faced sexual assault charges in France undoubtedly complicated matters. The latter charges were filed by Tristane Banon, a young writer and daughter of one of Strauss-Kahn’s colleagues in the French Socialist party. Banon accused Strauss-Kahn of having assaulted her in an empty Parisian apartment in 2003. While recognizing that “acts that could be qualified as sexual assault” had indeed occurred, French prosecutors would eventually decline to pursue the charges, judging that the statute of limitations had expired.
Despite both the “Sofitel affair” and the accusations of Tristane Banon, however, there was still talk in Paris of Strauss-Kahn returning to politics someday. Since the emergence of his name in connection with the so-called Carlton affair, that talk has ceased. It is now generally acknowledged – even by Strauss-Kahn supporters – that his political career is over. This is as much due to the facts to which Strauss-Kahn has already admitted as the charges that he could eventually face.
The “Carlton affair” takes its name from the luxury Carlton hotel in the northern French city of Lille. It was here that certain members of hotel management are supposed to have proposed to clients to reserve a “package” with their rooms: code for a prostitute. The “packages” were allegedly supplied by a brothel operator in Belgium who goes by the colorful alias Dodo La Saumure – or, roughly, “Briney Dodo.”
In the midst of their investigations into the Carlton, French investigators stumbled upon a broader prostitution ring, whose alleged organizers also included a local entrepreneur and Socialist party activist by the name of Fabrice Paszkowski. Paszkowski, who was arrested in October, is reported to have arranged what the French press refers to euphemistically as “soirées fines”: “elegant evenings” – or, in less refined terms, orgies. One of the “guests” at these events is known to have been none other than Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Indeed, it appears that Paszkowski specially arranged such gatherings for Strauss-Kahn.
Strauss-Kahn has admitted his participation, thereby, in effect, throwing in the towel on any efforts to salvage his political career. But as such the admission hardly drew more than a yawn from the Parisian cognoscenti. Rumors that Strauss-Kahn frequented so-called clubs échangistes, or “swingers’ clubs,” had already been circulating for many years in France.
The “soirées” would have been of no interest to the police were it not for the fact that at least some of the female guests were in reality not guests at all – but rather working girls. According to the reported statements of participants, the women were paid anywhere from 500 to 1,500 euros for their services (or, roughly, $650 to $2000). Some of them appear to have been veterans of Dodo La Saumure’s Belgian operations. Private rooms in hotels or clubs were typically rented for the occasion. “Mounia,” a call girl from Lille, has explained to police that for one such event in Paris in 2010, no less than four prostitutes were hired expressly for Strauss-Kahn’s “use.”
Based on elements of the investigations that have been leaked to the press, it would appear that Paszkowski specially arranged private sex parties for Strauss-Kahn during a period of several years, overlapping with Strauss-Kahn’s tenure as IMF managing director. David Roquet, an executive in a construction company specializing in public infrastructure projects, is supposed to have helped Paszkowski to arrange for the call girls and cover expenses. The two men are reported to have paid for the events on their company accounts. “On the back of the receipts, I wrote ‘DSK’ and the number of persons present,” Roquet is reported to have told police. Adding to the intrigue, a high-ranking police official from Lille, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, is supposed to have participated in some of the “soirées” and perhaps helped to organize them.
Like Paszkowski, both Roquet and Lagarde have been arrested on suspicion of jointly running a prostitution ring. Dodo La Saumure is under arrest in Belgium on separate charges. Dodo – or Dominique Alderweireld, by his given name – recently complained to the press about his arrest, noting that “everybody knows that brothels are tolerated in Belgium.”
“Paying events” – i.e. “soirées” with paid call girls – were reportedly held in Brussels, Lille, Paris…and Washington. According to multiple articles in the French press, in a period of just six months, between December 2010 and May 2011, no less than three and perhaps four such events were held in Washington. Typically, all of the principal suspects under investigation by the French police – Paszkowski, Roquet, and the police commissioner Lagarde – flew into Washington to join the then IMF director. The French businessmen had prostitutes in tow.
Thus, according to his reported statements to the police, during a trip to Washington in February, Roquet brought along two call girls, rebranding them as company “secretaries.” Paszkowski has told police that he employed the same ruse. The point has been corroborated by “Jade,” a Belgian prostitute who reportedly participated in several of the “events,” including a January 2011 affair in Washington. According to the French regional paper Nord Éclair, which interviewed her, Jade even got to have her picture taken with DSK at IMF headquarters.
Although the women were provided “covers” on their Washington visits, Paszkowski has conceded that it was not, as a rule, difficult to know their real line of work. “As for her status as a call girl, it’s a status that she easily acknowledged,” he is reported to have told police regarding one of the regular hires.
Astonishingly, Strauss-Kahn’s last organized sex bash in Washington is reported to have taken place on May 13. According to several French news sources, it was held at the W Hotel, just a short walk from the White House. On the very next day, Strauss-Kahn would leave Washington for New York and check into the Sofitel. The following morning, he would have his famous and fateful encounter with Nafissatou Diallo.
A call girl who has been identified only as “Florence” has told the French daily Le Parisen that she and a friend were paid 1,200 euros each for their services on this last Washington visit. In his statements to the police, Roquet has reportedly estimated the total cost of the operation at anywhere between 24,000 and 30,000 euros (or, roughly, $30,000 to $40,000).
At the time of his arrest in October, Paszkowski is reported to have turned over two of his cell phones to police. Inspecting the abundant archive of text messages exchanged between Strauss-Kahn and Paszkowski, investigators have turned up numerous barely-coded messages in which Strauss-Kahn, as L’Express has put it, “appears to ‘order’ girls or ask for new ones.” Many such messages have been quoted in the French press.
In one of the more disturbingly suggestive messages, dated July 4, 2009, Strauss-Kahn asks Paszkowski, “Do you want to (and can you) come discover a magnificent sex club in Madrid with me (and material)?” On January 23, 2011, during preparations for one of the Washington visits, Strauss-Kahn asks, “So, who will you have in your luggage?” Paszkowski’s response: “Sylvie, still complicated. Jade, Catherine, for sure. As for the little new one, she wants to see you, but in France to begin with….”
Strauss-Kahn has insisted that he was not aware that the women placed at his disposition were prostitutes. In a conversation with his semi-official biographer Michel Taubmann, he has even protested that he finds it “intolerable” to see his name associated with prostitution.
Earlier this month, as talk resurfaced of Strauss-Kahn being indicted as an accomplice in the affair, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer Henri Leclerc took to the airwaves of French radio station Europe 1. Asked whether Strauss-Kahn could truly have been unaware that he was dealing with prostitutes, Leclerc suggested a novel line of defense. “He could perfectly well have been unaware,” Leclerc replied, “because – guess what? – at these sorts of parties, one is not necessarily wearing clothes; and I defy you to try to distinguish a prostitute who is naked from a worldly woman who is naked.”
French judicial investigations into the “Carlton” prostitution affair are ongoing. According to the latest reports, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is scheduled for questioning in January.