France: Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Tuesday denied knowing the women he had orgies with were prostitutes and said paying for sex would be too great a risk for a man who was head of the International Monetary Fund.
The silver-haired economist once tipped for the French presidency faced a barrage of questions on the organisation of sex parties as he took the stand for the first time charged with "aggravated pimping" for allegedly aiding and abetting prostitution.
"I am horrified at the practice of using prostitutes," he told the court in the northern French city of Lille, denying he knew that the women his friends brought to the soirees in Paris, Brussels and Washington were paid to be there.
Strauss-Kahn admits being a libertine and said that while he accepted the risk of unusual sexual practices for a man of his stature, he would not have taken the risk of paying prostitutes who would be susceptible to "pressures."
The 65-year-old faces 10 years in prison if found guilty of procuring prostitutes as he finds himself back in the dock four years after his high-flying career and presidential prospects were torpedoed when he was accused of sexual assault by a New York hotel maid.
The crux of the case against him is whether he was aware the women were paid by members of his entourage and whether he played a role in organising the parties, which he also denied.
"I committed no crime, no offence," Strauss-Kahn said in a letter read out to the court by head judge Bernard Lemaire.
He also said from the witness stand that the sex parties he attended were few and far between, and that there was none of the "wild activity" of which he is accused.
Asked to define a libertine party, Strauss-Kahn said it was when men and women "came together for the pleasure of sex" and what he liked was the "party atmosphere" of such soirees.
Some of the prostitutes had described the evenings as sexual "carnage" that had nothing to do with a typical swingers party.
Strauss-Kahn`s close friend, businessman Fabrice Paszkowski who is accused of financing and organising the parties, said he never told the former IMF chief he had paid the women to attend.Lemaire said at the trial opening on February 2 that "the court is not the guardian of morals but of the law and its proper application".
However sordid details emerged nonetheless, with one former prostitute, Mounia, saying Strauss-Kahn had forced her to commit a sexual act which was "against nature" during a party at a chic Parisian hotel.
"I think he realised (I didn`t want to do it)," she said.
"I was crying, I was in pain," said Mounia, adding that she went along with it because she needed the money.
Strauss-Kahn strongly denied this, saying her tears would have "chilled" him.
However in a coup for the defence, Mounia said no question of money or fees for her services were raised with Strauss-Kahn.
Mounia said that while she was dressed in a rather "classic" fashion, the other prostitutes were clad more provocatively, which would indicate their profession.
Prostitution is legal in France but procuring -- the legal term for pimping which includes encouraging, benefiting from or organising prostitution -- is a crime.
Strauss-Kahn is the most high-profile of the 14 accused with "aggravated pimping", some also with fraud, and his presence at the court drew crowds of journalists and curious onlookers.
As he arrived at the court, topless Femen activists threw themselves on his car, one of them with "pimps, clients, guilty" scrawled across her chest.
He is in the dock with a colourful cast of characters in interlocking vice cases, including police, a prostitute, lawyer and notorious brothel owner known as "Dodo the Pimp."The trial is the latest in a series of cases offering a peek behind the bedroom door of a man once tipped as a potential challenger to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
It also casts the spotlight on the separation of a man`s public and private activity in a country where it has long been viewed that what public figures do is their own business.
France was left reeling after seeing the potential future president paraded handcuffed in front of the world`s cameras after the New York scandal, which was thrown out of court and eventually settled in a civil suit.
"Everyone has the right to a private life," said Strauss-Kahn, who will have three days to convince the court he was not at the core of a prostitution ring.
But even prosecutors have been divided over whether there is enough evidence to prove DSK was more pimp than casual consumer.
In 2013 state prosecutor Frederic Fevre called for the charges to be dropped, but investigating judges overruled him and ordered DSK to stand trial.