A French appeals court on Wednesday lifted a ban that prevented former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn from talking to the media about an investigation of a suspected prostitution ring run out of a luxury hotel in the northern city of Lille.
Strauss-Kahn, 63, is one of several public figures accused of being associated with the suspected prostitution ring at the Carlton hotel. Other suspects include prominent city officials and police.
In its ruling Wednesday, the court in Douai, which is handling the probe, said Strauss-Kahn can discuss the case with the media, but remains banned from contacting witnesses in it.
Strauss-Kahn is under investigation for alleged aggravated pimping in an organized group, a charge he has denied. He has acknowledged being involved in "libertine" activity at the hotel, but said he was unaware that anyone was being paid for sex.
Henri Leclerc, one of Strauss-Kahn's lawyers, said the ban on his client talking to the media had been an illegal measure, "useless, vexing and not in conformity with the law." He said the judicial control that includes not being in contact with witnesses is revelatory of the tenaciousness with which his client is being pursued by judicial officials. Strauss-Kahn's attorneys have claimed that there is an effort, including in the media, to demolish their client.
The prominent economist who once was billed as a likely presidential candidate, but his fortunes have unraveled starting with accusations of sexual assault by a New York hotel maid a year ago. New York prosecutors have dropped criminal charges in the case. However, a civil suit still dogs Strauss-Kahn.
The French case centered in Lille took a new turn earlier this month when a prosecutor opened a preliminary investigation into allegations of rape in a Washington hotel by the former IMF chief.
The move followed a request by investigating judges earlier this month to broaden the initial probe in order to examine the claims of rape in December 2010.
The prosecutor's office said it was looking into the allegation that Strauss-Kahn may have been involved in a rape during a sex party while he was head of the International Monetary Fund.
The married Strauss-Kahn says whatever happened was consensual, and he has denied doing anything violent.
French daily Liberation reported this month that two Belgian prostitutes questioned in the Lille probe described Strauss-Kahn as using violence during sex at the Washington hotel. The paper cited leaked transcripts of witness testimony to Belgian police, also involved in the probe with one prostitute claiming that another man held her hands down while Strauss-Kahn assaulted her.
The two prostitutes in question have not filed legal complaints, but French rules allow for an investigation even without a formal complaint.
The preliminary investigation could end with all suspicions of rape being dropped or it could lead to an eventual charge.
A statement signed by Strauss-Kahn's three lawyers insisted the probe would show that their client "never committed violent acts nor had any relation whatsoever without the consent of his partners."
The Lille probe focuses on a suspected prostitution ring involving prominent city figures and police. Prostitutes questioned in the case said they had sex with Strauss-Kahn in 2010 and 2011 at a luxury hotel in Paris, a restaurant in the French capital and also in Washington, D.C., where he lived while working at the Washington-based IMF, judicial officials say.
Strauss-Kahn is also facing a trial in New York over a lawsuit by a hotel maid who accused him of sexual assault in May 2011. A judge ruled this month that the trial can go forward despite Strauss-Kahn's claim that he had diplomatic immunity.
Strauss-Kahn has countersued, filing a $1 million lawsuit against the New York City hotel maid, the Guinean-born Nafissatou Diallo, saying she seriously damaged his reputation with what he calls a bogus allegation.
French writer had accused Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her during an interview in 2003, but prosecutors ruled last year that too much time had passed to pursue her complaint.
(This version corrects to Lille hotel.)