LILLE, France - Former IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose presidential hopes were torpedoed by a sex scandal, will Tuesday try to convince judges he was not at the core of a prostitution ring as he takes the stand in his "aggravated pimping" trial.
Topless Femen activists jumped on the roof of Strauss-Kahn's car as the 65-year-old arrived at the austere courthouse in the northern French city of Lille, one of them with "pimps, clients, guilty" scrawled across her chest.
The presence of the silver-haired economist, the most high-profile of the 14 accused in the three-week trial, also drew crowds of journalists and curious onlookers to the court.
Strauss-Kahn will have three days to fend off accusations that he organised for prostitutes to attend sex parties with him in Paris, Brussels and Washington in the case which could land him in prison for up to 10 years.
He will come face-to-face with two of these women, now retired sex workers, during questioning.
The former finance minister, known as DSK in France, is expected to argue he is merely a libertine who engaged in orgies with consenting adults and did not know the women lavishing their attention on him were prostitutes.
Until Tuesday, Strauss-Kahn had attended only the first day of the trial but his name has only been mentioned in passing by the judge, as French court rules forbid defendants from mentioning anyone not in the room.
An ex-prostitute, Mounia, said Monday she was specifically chosen for DSK by one of the businessmen who threw parties for him.
"The sexual relation that you were to have was with Dominique Strauss-Kahn?" asked Bernard Lemaire, the chief of the four judges overseeing the three-week jury-less trial.
"Yes," said Mounia, adding that the businessman, David Roquet, "told me he came to see if I would please this man".
Mounia and another prostitute, known as "Jade", are expected to testify that Strauss-Kahn would have been "naive" to have not realised they were professionals.
Court 'not guardian of morals'
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.
France was stunned when it saw Strauss-Kahn paraded handcuffed in front of the world's cameras after a New York hotel maid accused him of sexual assault in May 2011 - a case that was eventually settled in a civil suit.
Just six months later, his name cropped up in an investigation into an alleged vice ring in which the managers and publicist of the luxury Carlton hotel in Lille organised lunchtime sex parties with prostitutes for their friends.
The first section of the trial focused on the so-called "Carlton Affair".
Tears, amusement, and sordid details marked the testimony of key members of the alleged Carlton vice ring - hotel publicist Rene Kojfer and brothel owner Dominique Alderweireld, known as "Dodo the Pimp" - and the prostitutes who worked for them.
Lemaire said at the opening of the trial that "the court is not the guardian of morals but of the law and its proper application".
While Strauss-Kahn says he never set foot in the Carlton, and denies knowing the two men, it is they who allegedly provided prostitutes - including "Jade" - to his entourage who threw the sex parties for him.
King of the party?
The charge of "aggravated pimping in an organised group" has been leveled against Strauss-Kahn and these friends, two businessmen and an ex-police commissioner.
Prostitution is legal in France but procuring - the legal term for pimping which includes encouraging, benefiting from or organising prostitution - is a crime.
Judicial sources say Strauss-Kahn was "the king of the party" and that the orgies were organised around his schedule, with his mere presence giving rise to prostitution.
"In these circumstances one isn't always clothed, and I challenge you to tell the difference between a prostitute naked and any other woman naked," Strauss-Kahn's lawyer Henri Leclerc, 84, said in 2011.