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Former IMF chief charged with aggravated pimping in connection with alleged prostitution ring at Carlton hotel in Lille

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, is to go on trial on charges of pimping in connection with an alleged prostitution ring at a luxury hotel in the northern French city of Lille

Magistrates in France decided on Fridayto press ahead with charging the former Socialist minister in spite of calls by the state prosecutor for the case to be dropped.

Strauss-Kahn, 64, a former French presidential candidate, has admitted attending the “libertine” parties and having sex with a number of women. However, he has always insisted he did not know that some of them were prostitutes.

The case, known as the Carlton affair after the luxury hotel where the orgies were said to have taken place, centres around allegations that businessmen and police officials in Lille operated a vice ring supplying women for sex parties.

This affair, which came to light in late 2011, is the last of a series of inquiries into Strauss-Kahn since his arrest in New York in May 2011 where he was accused of trying to rape a hotel maid.

The charges in the US were eventually dropped because of doubts over maid Nafissatou Diallo’s credibility after she was found to have lied on her immigration claim, but Strauss-Kahn was later forced to pay her substantial damages reported to be in the region of $6m( 3.9m).

Two subsequent cases against the former French finance minister have also been dropped. An allegation of sexual assault against writer Tristane Banon in Paris in 2003 did not result in criminal charges because it had passed the legal time limit. In October last year, French prosecutors decided to drop an inquiry into allegations of gang rape at a hotel in Washington after one of the women involved who had made the claim retracted her evidence.

The state prosecutor had recommended that the Carlton affair charges against Strauss-Kahn be dropped on the grounds of a lack of evidence.

Magistrates decided otherwise; they put aside a charge of “aggravated pimping as part of an organised gang”, but maintained the lesser charge of “aggravated pimping as part of a group”. He is facing trial along with 12 other defendants.

In France pimping can cover a wide range of crimes including aiding or encouraging prostitution. A trial is expected to take place next year. If convicted, Strauss-Kahn could face up to 10 years in prison and a 1.5m ( 860,000) fine.

The former IMF chief has vehemently denied all allegations against him and described them as “dangerous and malicious insinuations and extrapolations”.

“It will all come out publicly before the tribunal and everyone will realise that there is nothing in this case,” Henri Leclerc, one of Strauss Kahn’s lawyers said on Friday.

Leclerc said the legal team was “under no illusions” about the “relentlessness shown by the investigating magistrates” and claimed Strauss-Kahn was being targeted because of his high profile.

“This decision is based on an ideological and moral analysis, but certainly not on any legal grounds. We’re sending someone to court for nothing,” said the lawyer.

After an earlier hearing into the Carlton affair, Leclerc told the French radio station Europe 1 that Strauss-Kahn could not have known whether the women at the parties were prostitutes.

“As you can imagine, at these kinds of parties you’re not always dressed, and I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman,” Leclerc said.

Strauss-Kahn had been a frontrunner as the Socialist party’s candidate to become French president in last year’s election before his arrest in New York. He was forced to resign from his job as IMF chief and his third wife Anne Sinclair, a wealthy heiress and former television presenter, divorced him.

At the Cannes film festival in May, Strauss-Kahn was pictured with a new girlfriend, Moroccan-born Myriam L’Aouffir, 45, who works in the internet and social media department at France Television.

Reports this week claimed Snowden had applied for asylum in Russia because he feared torture if he was returned to US

The US has told the Russian government that it will not seek the death penalty for Edward Snowden should he be extradited, in an attempt to prevent Moscow from granting asylum to the former National Security Agency contractor.

In a letter sent this week, US attorney general Eric Holder told his Russian counterpart that the charges faced by Snowden do not carry the death penalty. Holder added that the US “would not seek the death penalty even if Mr Snowden were charged with additional, death penalty-eligible crimes”.

Holder said he had sent the letter, addressed to Alexander Vladimirovich, Russia’s minister of justice, in response to reports that Snowden had applied for temporary asylum in Russia “on the grounds that if he were returned to the United States, he would be tortured and would face the death penalty”.

“These claims are entirely without merit,” Holder said. In addition to his assurance that Snowden would not face capital punishment, the attorney general wrote: “Torture is unlawful in the United States.”

In the letter, released by the US Department of Justice on Friday, Holder added: “We believe that these assurances eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr Snowden’s claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise.”

The US has been seeking Snowden’s extradition to face felony charges for leaking details of NSA surveillance programmes. There were authoritative reports on Wednesday that authorities in Moscow had granted Snowden permission to stay in Russia temporarily, but when Snowden’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, arrived to meet his client at Sheremetyevo airport, he said the papers were not yet ready.

Kucherena, who has close links to the Kremlin, said Snowden would stay in the airport’s transit zone, where he has been in limbo since arriving from Hong Kong on 23 June, for the near future.

The letter from Holder, and the apparent glitch in Snowden’s asylum application, suggest that Snowden’s fate is far from secure.

But a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin insisted Russia has not budged from its refusal to extradite Snowden. Asked by a reporter on Friday whether the government’s position had changed, Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that “Russia has never extradited anyone and never will.” Putin has previously insisted Russia will not extradite Snowden to the US. There is no US-Russia extradition treaty.

Putin’s statement still leaves the Russian authorities room for manoeuvre, however, as Snowden is not technically on Russian soil.

Peskov said that Putin is not involved in reviewing Snowden’s application or involved in discussions about the whistleblower’s future with the US, though he said the Russian security service, the FSB, had been in touch with the FBI.

Speaking on Wednesday, Snowden’s lawyer said he was hoped to settle in Russia. “[Snowden] wants to find work in Russia, travel and somehow create a life for himself,” Kucherena told the television station Rossiya 24. He said Snowden had already begun learning Russian.

There is support among some Russian politicians for Snowden to be allowed to stay in the country. The speaker of the Russian parliament, Sergei Naryshkin, has said Snowden should be granted asylum to protect him from the death penalty.

The letter from Holder was designed to allay those fears and negate the grounds for which Snowden as allegedly applied for asylum in Russia. The attorney general said that if Snowden returned to the US he would “promptly be brought before a civilian court” and would receive “all the protections that United States law provides”.

“Any questioning of Mr Snowden could be conducted only with his consent: his participation would be entirely voluntary, and his legal counsel would be present should he wish it,” Holder said.

He added that despite Snowden’s passport being revoked he “remains a US citizen” and said the US would facilitate a direct return to the country.

Germany’s president, who helped expose the workings of East Germany’s Stasi secret police, waded into the row on Friday. President Joachim Gauck, whose role is largely symbolic, said whistleblowers such as Snowden deserved respect for defending freedom.

“The fear that our telephones or mails are recorded and stored by foreign intelligence services is a constraint on the feeling of freedom and then the danger grows that freedom itself is damaged,” Gauck said.

Vice-president tells Munich conference that US can talk to Tehran over alleged nuclear programme if Iran gets serious

The United States is prepared to hold direct talks with Iran amid the standoff over its nuclear ambitions, the US vice-president, Joe Biden, has said.

Speaking at the Munich security conference on Saturday, Biden said: “There is still time, there is still space for diplomacy backed by pressure to succeed.”

He insisted that “the ball is in the government of Iran’s court” to show that it is negotiating in good faith.

Asked when Washington would hold direct talks with Tehran, Biden replied: “When the Iranian leadership, the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], is serious.”

Last month, Iran announced plans to dramatically increase its pace of uranium enrichment, which can be used to make both reactor fuel and the fissile core of warheads.

Iran insists it does not want nuclear arms and argues it has a right to enrich uranium for a civilian nuclear power programme, but suspicions persist that the real aim is to develop nuclear weapons. The country’s nuclear programme remained secret until it was exposed more than a decade ago.

Iran also unveiled its latest combat jet on Saturday, a domestically manufactured fighter-bomber that military officials claim can evade radar. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a ceremony broadcast on state TV that building the Qaher-313, or Dominant-313, highlights Iran’s will to “conquer scientific peaks”.

The Qaher is one of several aircraft designs produced by the Iranian military since 2007. The Islamic republic launched a self-sufficiency military programme in the 1980s to compensate for a western weapons embargo that banned the export of military technology and equipment to Iran. Since 1992, Iran has produced its own tanks, armoured personnel carriers, missiles, torpedoes, drones and fighter planes.

Russia and the US have moved closer to agreeing a strategy over Iran’s nuclear programme, butthe two countries remain dividied as to how to tackle the crisis in Syria.

Biden told the conference: “President Assad, a tyrant hellbent on clinging to power, is no longer fit to lead the Syrian people and he must go.”

The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, branded Biden’s statement as counterproductive. “The persistence of those who say that priority number one is the removal of President Assad, I think it’s the single biggest reason for the continued tragedy in Syria.”

Republican Darrell Issa and Democrat Elijah Cummings ask whether level of Swartz’s prosecution was ‘appropriate’

Members of Congress investigating the prosecution of Aaron Swartz have asked the US attorney general if the free information activist’s political advocacy was a factor in the decision to pursue him.

A letter from the House Oversight Committee to Eric Holder indicates that it is taking a close look at whether the level of criminal charges and punishment sought by prosecutors were appropriate, as well as whether political factors played a part.

Swartz took his own life this month after battling federal hacking charges, which have been severely criticised as over-reaching and unnecessary by lawyers and cyber-crime experts.

A joint letter from Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the committee and Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat, asked for a briefing to be scheduled with Department of Justice staff within a week.

Issa tweeted on Monday that he had requested a “timely briefing” on the case, with a link to the letter, first reported by the Huffington Post.

Swartz, an internet pioneer who helped create Reddit, faced up to 35 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines, after being charged with 13 felonies for allegedly breaking into Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s computer system to access a huge volume of academic articles from the JSTOR digital library with the intention of making them freely available. He had legal access to the articles in the library, but was accused of violating the terms of service by downloading too many, too fast. JSTOR did not pursue a prosecution after Swartz turned over his files to the Department of Justice.

His family have accused prosecutors and MIT of contributing to his death on 11 January.

The letter from Issa and Cummings, dated 28 January, asks what factors influenced the decision to prosecute Swartz, and what lay behind key decisions in the case, such as the multiple charges against him and specific plea bargains offered to him.

In particular, it asks: “Was Mr Swartz’s opposition to Sopa or his association with any advocacy groups considered?”

Swartz, an advocate for open access online, founded Demand Progress, to rally the online community against two internet censorship bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and the Protect IP Act (Pipa).

Lawyers for Swartz have reportedly said that they had been unsuccessful in trying to get a plea bargain which did not involve jail time. He was offered a plea bargain of six to eight months prison time if he plead guilty to all 13 counts.

Issa has been an avid campaigner for internet freedom and has spoken out against Sopa. Cummings told the Huffington Post that the Department of Justice had already agreed to brief them.

“I expect that we’ll be meeting with them next week,” he said. “We expect to have a candid and open discussion with the US attorney’s office and then we’ll take it from there, but I promise you we will not leave one stone unturned.”

He told the news site: “There’s more than one issue here – is the law too vague? Why was he charged the way he was when the University decided it was not going to prosecute?”

Representative Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California, has put forward an amendment to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which has been called “Aaron’s law”

Carmen Ortiz, the prosecutor, put out a statement after Swartz’s death, defending the charges against him and said they were “appropriate”.