By Pierre Savary
LILLE, France (Reuters) - Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was taken in for questioning on Tuesday by police investigating an alleged prostitution ring run out of the northern French city of Lille.
Strauss-Kahn can be held for up to 48 hours and may then be placed under formal investigation for benefitting from misappropriated company funds. Investigators are trying to find out whether French executives used corporate expense accounts to fund sex parties with prostitutes.
A former finance minister once seen as a strong contender for France's 2012 presidential election, Strauss-Kahn's career and political ambitions came to an abrupt end last May after he was accused of sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid.
He made no comment to waiting reporters as he arrived for questioning at a Lille police station.
Strauss-Kahn quit his International Monetary Fund post after the New York sex assault case broke, although criminal charges were later dropped. Linked later to the Lille affair, Strauss-Kahn said that he wanted to talk to police over the case.
The probe is focused on a prostitution ring that allegedly supplied clients of Lille's luxury Carlton hotel. Police want to establish whether Strauss-Kahn knew that women at sex parties he attended in Paris and Washington were prostitutes.
Eight people, including two Lille businessmen close to Strauss-Kahn and a police commissioner, have been arrested in the case, and construction firm Eiffage fired an executive suspected of using company funds to hire sex workers.
Using prostitutes is not illegal in France, but Strauss-Kahn risks being charged if investigators decide he knew the women at the sex parties were prostitutes or that company funds were used to pay them.
Strauss-Kahn's lawyer Henri Leclerc has said his client had no reason to think the women at sex parties he attended were prostitutes.
Attempted-rape accusations brought against Strauss-Kahn last year by a Parisian writer were shelved by police in October.
The New York maid is pursuing him in a civil action.
(Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Louise Ireland and Daniel Flynn)