If Dominique Strauss-Kahn had hoped that a summer of scandal would be followed by a winter of rehabilitation, it seems he is set to be disappointed.
He returned home to France in August in a blaze of media attention after New York prosecutors dropped a case against him of alleged attempted rape of a hotel chamber maid that led to his temporary imprisonment and his resignation as head of the International Monetary Fund.
Last month, Paris prosecutors also decided not to pursue a case against Mr Strauss-Kahn brought by a French writer a few weeks after the eruption in May of the New York allegations. Tristane Banon, the writer, subsequently said she would not pursue a civil case against him. A civil case launched by Nafissatou Diallo, the New York chamber maid, is still outstanding, but DSK could have felt that the tide of accusations against him was receding.
In a television interview in September he confessed to “moral failing” over his encounter with Ms Diallo, but adamantly denied any violence or coercion against his accusers and left the door open to an eventual return to public life.
That now seems a more distant hope after his name cropped up in a spate of media reports about an alleged prostitution ring in Lille. No official action has been taken nor has any accusation of involvement or illegality been laid against Mr Strauss-Kahn. He has demanded a hearing from police to dispel what his lawyers have called “dangerous and malicious insinuations and extrapolations”.
But the French press has been full of lurid reports of the Lille case, in which a senior police officer and a local businessman with links to Mr Strauss-Kahn are among those under police investigation for running a prostitution ring based in hotels in the city. The two are reported to have visited DSK during trips to Washington with girls in tow, including in the days before he was arrested in New York.
The Lille affair has deepened the political isolation of Mr Strauss-Kahn. Before the New York case blew up, he was favourite to be the opposition Socialist party’s candidate against Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s presidential election. With the party closing ranks behind François Hollande, Mr Strauss-Kahn’s former supporters are now backing away from him. A full-page article in Le Monde at the weekend headed “Between rage and bitterness” quoted several by name, including one National Assembly deputy who said: “I don’t want to hear any more”.
Mr Strauss-Kahn faces a long road back to respectability.
Le Pen in America
A French politician in full flow is Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen and now leader of the far-right National Front founded by her bombastic father. Deep-voiced, highly articulate and media-friendly, Ms Le Pen is shaping up to be a serious candidate in the presidential election. She has softened some of the harder-edged overt racism of her father’s leadership and is exploiting popular worries about the economy, unemployment and, of course, immigration.
This week she is off to the US. A cancelled appointment with Ron Paul, Republican hopeful and Tea Party luminary, is the nearest she may come to a mainstream political meeting, but she intends to use the trip to attack the IMF – “the infernal machine of ultraliberal ideology”.
With a poll ranking of about 17 per cent, her party hopes to repeat its coup of 2002 when Mr Le Pen beat Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin into second place in the first round of the election, going through to the run-off against Jacques Chirac. This time, the main threat she poses is to Mr Sarkozy. No surprise, then, that the president has already begun to tack to the right ahead of his own campaign.
Babe in arms
Between eurozone crisis summits and the G20 in Cannes, Mr Sarkozy stole a couple of days over the weekend to retreat to an old hunting lodge in Versailles with his wife, Carla Bruni, and their newborn daughter, Giulia.
The couple have insisted there will be no glossy magazine spreads or photo calls with the baby. But the front page of the pro-Sarko Le Figaro had a touching photo of the family strolling in the sunshine. The caption said the photographers were hiding. I wonder if the media-savvy presidential couple knew where?