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Strauss-Kahn handed preliminary charges in prostitution probe

Pascal Rossignol / Reuters

Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves the courts in Lille after questioning by three judges over his role in a prostitution case March 26, 2012.

Updated at 4:20 a.m. ET: LILLE, France -- Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was handed preliminary charges Monday alleging he was involved in a hotel prostitution ring in France, a stunning blow for the onetime French presidential hopeful.

The investigation on suspicion of complicity in a pimping operation is the latest judicial headache for the Socialist ex-finance minister. The move could lead to a trial but it falls short of charging him.

His lawyer said the married, 62-year-old Strauss-Kahn engaged in "libertine" acts but did nothing legally wrong.

Strauss-Kahn himself left in a black sedan without speaking publicly. He was released under judicial supervision and was barred from contacting others charged in the case, a judicial official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still underway.

The Lille prosecutor's office said in a statement he was required to post 100,000 euros ($133,300) in bail. He is forbidden to contact witnesses, the press and others involved in the prostitution case, it said.

Under the spotlight
Strauss-Kahn has seen his sexual behavior scrutinized in the international spotlight over the past year. The French preliminary charges come two days before a New York court takes up a civil case in which a hotel maid accuses Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her.

The Lille case centers on allegations that a prostitution ring organized by Strauss-Kahn's business associates supplied clients at the city's Carlton Hotel.

Already in the case, eight people, including two Lille businessmen and a police commissioner, have been arrested, and construction firm Eiffage fired an executive suspected of using company funds to hire sex workers.

Strauss-Kahn investigated in French prostitution ring

Judges had the option of putting him under investigation for having potentially benefited from misappropriated company funds if he knowingly attended prostitute sessions paid for by his executive friends using expense accounts.

Video surveillance footage from the New York City hotel where former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of sexually assaulting a maid is raising new questions in the case. NBC's Michael Isikoff reports.

Instead, the case against Strauss-Kahn hinges on whether he knew he was partying with prostitutes, and whose money was used to pay them. Lawyers for the ex-IMF chief have acknowledged that he attended orgies.

In itself, using prostitutes is not illegal in France.

Prostitutes questioned in the case said they had sex with Strauss-Kahn during 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 for the Washington-based IMF, judicial officials say.

"Mr. Strauss-Kahn is finding himself, in large part because of his fame, thrown to the butchers," lawyer Richard Malka said. "Colossal police and judicial means were deployed to crack and dissect his private life to an infinite degree, with the only goal being to invent and then castigate what can be considered a crime of lust."

He said it was inappropriate to use "simple libertine activity" to accuse Strauss-Kahn of procuring prostitutes or involvement in organized crime.

Former head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is back at home in Paris after New York prosecutors dropped the rape case against him. NBC's Annabel Roberts has the report.

French newspapers have dubbed the prostitution investigation "The Carlton Affair" after the name of the expensive Lille hotel where some encounters allegedly took place.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn flees student protesters

Strauss-Kahn's wife of two decades, renowned TV journalist Anne Sinclair, is now editor of the new French version of the Huffington Post website. The site carried a banner headline Monday night reading "PRELIMINARY CHARGES" over a photo of Strauss-Kahn.

The Malka suggested that the charges were politically tinged, since they came down a month before France's presidential election. Just a year ago, Strauss-Kahn, a prominent economist, had topped polls as the man most likely to win.

Strauss-Kahn quit the IMF after the New York hotel maid said he sexually assaulted her in May. The criminal charges were later dropped when prosecutors said the maid's testimony was unreliable. Strauss-Kahn said the encounter was "inappropriate" but insisted it wasn't violent.

The maid, an immigrant from Guinea, has insisted she was truthful about the encounter and is pursuing claims against Strauss-Kahn in a civil lawsuit. A hearing is set for Wednesday on Strauss-Kahn's claim that diplomatic immunity should insulate him from the lawsuit. Strauss-Kahn is not expected to attend.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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