Lawyers of former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn have vowed to challenge preliminary charges filed against their client over his alleged role in a prostitution ring.

Prosecutors say Strauss-Kahn was involved in an organized vice ring that supplied prostitutes for orgies with wealthy men. Strauss-Kahn's lawyers say he attended group sex parties, but did not know the women were paid to be there.

"Dominique Strauss-Kahn had a certain number of parties with women, libertine parties with friends and women who were friends of friends," lawyer Henri Leclerc told reporters in Paris on Tuesday.

He said Strauss-Kahn was unaware any of them were prostitutes.

"Everyone can say whatever they want about the moral side of it. But that doesn't mean it's forbidden anywhere in the penal code ... He's being reproached for a kind of crime of lust."

Although he insists on his innocence, the steady drip of allegations about the former statesman's behavior has painted a lurid and unflattering picture.

In the latest salvo, the daily Le Monde published what it said were text
messages once sent by Strauss-Kahn in which he referred to women at the orgies
as "equipment" and "luggage."

Strauss-Kahn's legal team reacted furiously, accusing Le Monde of quoting selectively from the document and declaring they would lodge a legal complaint with authorities alleging their client's rights had been violated.

Maid case

In a separate case, Strauss-Kahn's lawyers are due to defend him in a New York court on Wednesday for the first hearing in a civil case brought against him by Nafissatou Diallo, a hotel maid who claims he sexually assaulted her in May.

The criminal charges against Strauss-Kahn have been dropped, but he can still be ordered to pay compensation for damages in the civil case.

Judge Douglas McKeon will be asked to rule on a motion by Strauss-Kahn's lawyers urging him to dismiss the case on the grounds that, at the time of the alleged attack in May last year, their client had diplomatic immunity.

Strauss-Kahn quit the IMF after a Diallo accused him of attacking her in his suite in a New York Sofitel hotel.

Charges were dropped after prosecutors came to doubt the reliability of her testimony. Strauss-Kahn later called his sexual relations with her "consensual but stupid".

The maid's lawyers are now pursuing unspecified damages.

"She wants recognition of her status as a victim and the reality of the attack she suffered," her French lawyer Thibault de Montbrial told French television channel LCI.

He said Diallo was still employed by the Sofitel hotel and expected to go back to work there at some point, adding that she still required treatment on her shoulder, "which was injured during the assault."

Strauss-Kahn and Diallo are neither required, nor expected, to be present
in court.

'Classic relationship'

The French case against Strauss-Kahn hinges on whether he knew he was partying with prostitutes, and whose money was used to pay them.

Two men with ties to Strauss-Kahn are behind bars in the probe, accused of paying the prostitutes: Fabrice Paszkowski, director of a medical supply company in northern France: and David Roquet, a former director of a subsidiary of utility company Eiffage.

The 62-year-old one-time presidential favourite is free on $133,330 bail after being handed the preliminary charges on Monday which could carry as many as 20 years in prison if convicted.

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, where he lived while working for the Washington-based IMF, judicial officials say.

Even if he had known they were prostitutes, his lawyer said, it would have been a "classic relationship between a prostitute and client" and therefore legal.

In France it is not against the law to pay for sex, but is against the law to solicit or to run a prostitution business.

Strauss-Kahn's name came up as police were investigating a pimping operation that saw sex workers from brothels over the Belgian border being brought to France for orgies in high-class hotels in Lille and Paris.

Until the scandals erupted, Strauss-Kahn was considered the favourite to become the Socialist Party's presidential candidate and the frontrunner to defeat incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy in next month's election.

Source: Agencies