Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, has gone to trial for "pimping" as part of a prostitution ring in France, the nation where he was once considered a top presidential contender.

Strauss-Kahn, widely as DSK, faces up to ten years in prison and a $1.7mn fine, as he and more than a dozen other French and Belgian businessmen and police officers went on trial on Monday in the northern French city of Lille.

Strauss-Kahn's career nosedived amid accusations of sexually assaulting a hotel maid in New York, with charges such as aggravated pimping and involvement in a prostitution ring operating out of luxury hotels.

The trial is scheduled to last three weeks, with Strauss-Kahn not expected to testify until February 10.

Hundreds of reporters are expected to cover the trial, making it one of the highest-profile cases in France in years.

Investigators have compiled hundreds of pages of testimony from prostitutes describing the orgies allegedly organised by the 65-year-old Strauss-Kahn and his co-defendants, centred on the Carlton Hotel in Lille near the Belgian border.

Strauss-Kahn says he took part in "libertine" activities but insists he never knew the women involved were prostitutes.

Forced to resign

In 2011, Strauss-Kahn was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid in New York, accusations that ended his high-flying finance career.

As head of the Washington-based IMF between 2007 and 2011, Strauss-Kahn was also tipped to become the French Socialist party's presidential candidate for the 2012 election.

Strauss-Kahn was forced to resign from his $500,000-a-year IMF position, even though New York prosecutors dropped the case three months later because they said the maid had undercut her credibility by lying about her background and changing her account of her actions right after the alleged attack.

Strauss-Kahn said the sexual encounter was consensual but called it "a moral failing"

It's not illegal to pay for sex in France, but it's against the law to solicit or to run a prostitution business.

Source: Associated Press