By Pierre Savary
LILLE, France (Reuters) - Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn spent the night in a seven-square-meter cell before French police questioned him for a second day on Wednesday over what he knew about prostitutes that friends brought to him.
Strauss-Kahn, whose IMF job and prospects of becoming next French president ended in May after his arrest in New York on now dropped sex assault charges, has been plagued since by the prostitution investigation in the northern French city of Lille.
It centers on allegations that a prostitution ring organized
by business acquaintances of Strauss-Kahn supplied clients of Lille's luxury Carlton Hotel.
Police want to establish whether the now-jobless Strauss-Kahn knew that women at parties he attended in Lille, Paris and Washington were prostitutes.
His lawyer has said he had no reason to think the women were prostitutes, noting it was not always easy to tell the difference between a "classy lady" and a prostitute when they were naked.
A source close to the case said Strauss-Kahn would be released later on Wednesday but any decision to place him under official judicial investigation over the affair might be announced at a later date.
Investigators can either drop all pursuit of Strauss-Kahn or formally put him under investigation.
He could be investigated on suspicion of complicity in a pimping operation or of having benefited from misappropriated company funds if he knowingly attended sessions with prostitutes that company executives he knew paid for using expense accounts.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, made no comment as he arrived by car for questioning early on Tuesday at Lille police station.
He quit his globe-trotting job at the head of the International Monetary Fund after he was accused of trying to rape a New York chambermaid.
U.S. prosecutors dropped the criminal charges against him because of concerns about the credibility of the plaintiff.
On his return home in September, French public prosecutors shelved a separate sex assault complaint by a French writer on the grounds she had filed her grievance almost a decade after the event and too late under the statute of limitations.
Then the Lille affair surfaced, with relentless and at times salacious media leaks further soiling his reputation.
Denouncing what they called a media lynching, Strauss-Kahn's lawyers said they would sue several publications and demanded in October that he be summoned by Lille investigators so that he could explain himself.
One issue intriguing U.S. jurists is whether any visits that escort girls paid Strauss-Kahn while he was living in the United States might expose him to pursuit under a U.S. law that prohibits transporting people across state lines for the purposes of prostitution.
"If it's shown he had prostitutes come to America and cross state lines in America, he is potentially opening himself to charges under American law," said Christophe Mesnooh, a Paris-based Franco-American lawyer who has no business involvement in the inquiry.
However, other legal experts said prosecutors tended to resort to the U.S. law in question, the Mann Act, against suppliers and organizers of prostitution enterprises, rather than clients.
"It would be exceedingly rare for anyone who was just a customer to be roped into a federal prostitution prosecution," said Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor who is a professor Columbia Law School in New York.
(Reporting by Pierre Savary in Lille, Brian Love and John Irish in Paris, Josepch Ax in New York; Writing by Brian Love; Edited by Richard Meares/David Stamp)