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Disgraced IMF leader seeks redemption

Dominique Strauss-Kahn argues that French authorities are trying to criminalize his libertine lifestyle.

MICHAEL APPLETON/NEW YORK TIMES

Dominique Strauss-Kahn argues that French authorities are trying to criminalize his libertine lifestyle.

PARIS — More than a year after resigning in disgrace as the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is seeking redemption with a new consulting company, the lecture circuit, and a uniquely French legal defense to settle a criminal inquiry that exposed his hidden life as a libertine.

Strauss-Kahn, 63, a silver-haired economist, is seeking to throw out criminal charges in an inquiry into ties to a prostitution ring in northern France with the legal argument that the authorities are unfairly trying to ‘‘criminalize lust.’’

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That defense and the investigation, which is facing a critical judicial hearing in late November, have offered a keyhole view into a clandestine practice in certain powerful circles of French society: secret soirees with lawyers, judges, police officials, journalists, and musicians that start with a fine meal and end with naked guests and public sex with multiple partners.

In France, ‘‘Libertinage’’ has long history, dating from a 16th-century religious sect of French libertines. But the most perplexing question in the Strauss-Kahn affair is how a career politician with ambition to lead one of Europe’s most powerful nations was blinded to the possibility that his zest for sex parties could present a liability, or risk blackmail.

The exclusive orgies — lavish champagne affairs costing around $13,000 each — were organized as a roving international circuit from Paris to Washington by businessmen seeking to ingratiate themselves with Strauss-Kahn.

Some of that money, according to a lawyer for the main host, ultimately paid for prostitutes because of a shortage of women at the mixed soirees orchestrated largely for the benefit of Strauss-Kahn, who sometimes sought sex with three or four women.

On Thursday, Strauss-Kahn broke a long silence to acknowledge that perhaps his double life as an unrestrained libertine was a little outre.

‘‘I long thought that I could lead my life as I wanted,’’ he said in an interview with the French magazine Le Point. ‘‘And that includes free behavior between consenting adults. There are numerous parties that exist like this in Paris, and you would be surprised to encounter certain people. I was naive.’’

This month Strauss-Kahn won a major legal battle after a French prosecutor dropped part of the investigation into an alleged sexual assault at a hotel in Washington. A Belgian prostitute recanted her earlier accusation, saying the encounter was just rough sex play, but Strauss-Khan is still a suspect for involvement in a prostitution ring.

Buoyed by that first victory, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers predict he will triumph in France, where having sex with prostitutes is not illegal, although soliciting and pimping are.

In essence, they argue, there is nothing criminal about the sexual life of a libertine, according to Strauss-Kahn’s lead lawyer, Henri Leclerc.

That defense may not satisfy the charges in a New York civil lawsuit filed by Nafissatou Diallo, who accused Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault last year in a New York hotel where she was a chambermaid. Lawyers representing both sides deny there are financial negotiations under way.

‘‘His travels will eventually bring him to a courthouse in the Bronx, where he will face justice,’’ Kenneth Thompson, the lawyer representing Diallo, said in an interview.

All of Strauss-Kahn’s current legal woes in New York and France mixed together last year, with devastating results.

Strauss-Kahn’s name first surfaced in the French inquiry by chance, in May 2011. French investigators were tapping the telephones of Dominique Alderweireld, an owner of Belgian sex clubs who is also a suspect in the prostitution ring.

In one conversation between Alderweireld and a longtime childhood friend, Rene Kojfer, who worked at the Carlton Hotel in Lille, the men were gossiping about Strauss-Kahn’s recent New York arrest, according to lawyers involved in the case.

The investigation into the prostitution ring in Lille ultimately swept up 10 suspects, including Strauss-Kahn. They knew one another largely through their membership as French Freemasons, according to Karl Vandamme, a defense lawyer who represents Fabrice Paszkowski, the owner of a medical supply company who played a crucial role in organizing the sex parties.

‘‘Libertines are people like you and me: people who have a normal life,’’ said Vandamme, who said his client invested around $65,000 in party expenses, betting on the political rise of Strauss-Kahn.

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