By Brian Love and Pierre Savary

PARIS/DOUAI, France (Reuters) - A French court on Wednesday rejected a request by former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn to drop a sex offence inquiry in which he risks standing trial on pimping charges, his lawyers said.

The ruling was given just over a week after Strauss-Kahn settled a separate civil case in New York with a hotel maid who accused him of attempted rape in May 2011, ending his French presidential hopes and career at the International Monetary Fund.

While the New York settlement brought his U.S. legal woes to an end, the latest decision by the court in Douai in northern France means he remains under the legal spotlight at home.

"Dominique Strauss-Kahn's defense team is certain that he will ultimately be cleared of these absurd accusations of pimping," lawyer Henri Leclerc said in a statement, adding that he planned to appeal to France's supreme court.

Strauss-Kahn denies wrongdoing in all the charges against him.

He is under fire about sex parties with prostitutes in the so-called Carlton Affair, named after a hotel in northern France at the centre of the inquiry.

His lawyers argue that consorting with prostitutes is not illegal and that investigators have no grounds for pursuing him on the basis that his behavior could be construed as pimping, which is illegal.

They denounced "serious violations" of their defendant's rights, alleging that investigators held back information which should have been shared with lawyers.

Several acquaintances of Strauss-Kahn, or "DSK" as he is often called in France, are under inquiry too, including a police commissioner, Jean-Christophe Lagarde.

Lagarde's lawyer, Olivier Bluche, said he might take the matter to the European Court of Human rights.

Under French law, being placed under official investigation does not automatically lead to trial but it often takes months or years before a decision to take the matter to court or not.

In the United States, Strauss-Kahn's legal troubles ended within 18 months of a sex assault complaint filed by New York Sofitel hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo.

U.S. prosecutors dropped criminal charges in August 2011, saying they had worries about Guinea-born Diallo's credibility as a witness in court after discovering that she had lied in the past on tax and immigration documents.

She opened civil proceedings that ended last week with a settlement for an undisclosed sum, but Strauss-Kahn's problems multiplied in France while U.S. proceedings ran their course.

Firstly, a woman writer accused him of a sex assault many years earlier in a case prosecutors declined to pursue because no complaint was filed at the time of the incident.

His name then started cropping up in the Carlton affair, where a group rape charge was dropped earlier this year after a woman withdrew her complaint.

Strauss-Kahn, who is now living separately from wife Anne Sinclair, a wealthy art heiress who has revived her career as a journalist since the couple returned to France in late 2011, recently set up a one-man business consultancy.

(Reporting By Pierre Savary in Douai and Brian Love in Paris; editing by Mark John and Alistair Lyon)


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