The Endless Pathos and Hubris of L’Affaire DSK

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Michel Spingler / AP

Former International Monetary Fund leader, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, arrives at a police station in Lille, northern France, Feb. 21, 2012.

When Dominique Strauss-Kahn awoke in a French detention cell Wednesday morning, he probably wasn’t experiencing the sort of déjà vu one might expect. Because in contrast to his incarceration last May in New York on suspicion of sexual assault, the man detained in Lille for questioning Tuesday night wasn’t worrying about losing his job as head of the International Monetary Fund, or his status as the overwhelming favorite to become France’s next president. By the time DSK faced questioning on his alleged involvement with a prostitution ring Tuesday morning, the 62 year-old former Elysée front-runner had lost just about everything that constituted his life, career, and future just a year ago.

Strauss-Kahn voluntarily appeared for questioning before an investigating magistrate looking into a Franco-Belgian prostitution ring that allegedly served affluent and influential clients. Numerous French media reports on the months-long inquiry state Strauss-Kahn partook in sexual encounters and orgies staged in restaurants, clubs, hotels, and residences in France—as well as a few exported to Washington D.C., where he worked as the IMF chief. Strauss-Kahn has denied any legal wrongdoing as the scandal has ground on over the past six months, and his wife Anne Sinclair has thus far remained by his side despite the compiling evidence of his infidelity. Indeed, that unflagging support from Sinclair might be the only important part of his life that he didn’t lose after the ultimately dropped attempted rape case gave way to similar allegations in France, only to be followed by the Lille inquiry. Indeed, at this point neither the additional damage to his reputation, nor the potential legal threats he faces in the case, must rank all that high on the DSK hit list of recent adversity.

Myriad leaks from the investigation in the French press—as well as a few interviews with the paid sex escorts claiming to have participated in the gatherings—seem to leave little doubt that DSK partook in the soirées. (Even his attorney has appeared to acknowledge his client was present as claimed, but has suggested DSK wasn’t aware his female partners were professional escorts.) Since prostitution isn’t illegal in France, Strauss-Kahn risks nothing worse than public scorn if it’s established he did frolic with prostitutes.

Pimping, by contrast, is against the law, meaning Strauss-Kahn could be charged with complicity if it’s proven he knew the women were arranged by and working for the men suspected of orchestrating the events. Probably worse still in legal terms, with investigators suspecting that corporate funds were used as “entertainment expenses” to pay for some of the encounters, DSK could be charged with complicity of embezzlement if it’s proven he was aware company money had financed the sexual follies. And were that established, questions would rise about whether DSK accepted the paid sexual services in exchange for any political favors or help his benefactors might request. At this point that’s all suspicion and speculation. Meantime, even if Strauss-Kahn were made a suspect, tried, and convicted in the case, it’s unlikely his tally of jail time served would increase beyond the provisional detention he sweated out at Rikers Island last year and Lille this week, legal experts say.

So why the interest? Because it evokes sex, lascivious acts among the rich and famous, marital treason, and what may be the final act in a rapid, spectacular, and unexpected fall from power and grace. Yet even the powerful lurid allure of DSK’s plight may now finally be starting to wane for some people. Strauss-Kahn’s plummet has been so dizzying and dramatic that his landing in the Lille detention cell doesn’t represent much more than another thud of his reputation bouncing off the hard bottom of disgrace. The renewed hype surrounding Strauss-Kahn’s travails amounts to tirer sur l’ambulance—literally “shooting at the ambulance” to get an already wounded target (a Gallic variant of “flogging a dead horse”).

But both the hubris and pathos of the DSK drama mean few people—and no media—will simply drop it. Given the multiplying allegations of the last year, it may take some time to fully purge that reserve of revelations. Meaning there may be more of Wednesday’s déjà vu experiences in store for Strauss-Kahn’s before the saga that opened in New York finally comes to a close.