A French prosecutor has opened a preliminary investigation into allegations of rape in a Washington hotel by former IMF chief and one-time presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
The move by the prosecutor in Lille followed a request by investigating judges earlier this month to broaden a suspected prostitution probe to examine the claims of rape in December 2010.
The prosecutor's office said it was looking into the allegation that Mr Strauss-Kahn may have been involved in a rape during a sex party in the hotel while he was head of the International Monetary Fund.
Married Mr Strauss-Kahn, 63, says whatever happened was consensual, and he has denied doing anything violent.
The prominent economist, once a top contender for France's presidency, has seen his career and reputation crumble since he was accused of sexual assault in a New York hotel a year ago.
Mr Strauss-Kahn is already a target in the Lille prostitution probe, which has mushroomed over the past year into a nationwide scandal. He is facing preliminary charges of alleged aggravated pimping, based on accusations by other people questioned in the investigation.
He denies those charges. He has acknowledged being involved in "libertine" activity, while saying that he was unaware of anyone being paid for sex.
French daily Liberation reported this month that two Belgian prostitutes questioned in the Lille probe described Mr Strauss-Kahn as using violence during sex at the W Hotel in Washington and forcing a sexual act on one despite her protests.
Citing leaked transcripts of witness evidence to Belgian police, also involved in the probe, Liberation cited one of the prostitutes as saying that Mr Strauss-Kahn "used force, he held down my hands, he pulled my hair, he hurt me". The woman is quoted as saying that another man held her hands down while Mr Strauss-Kahn assaulted her.
Neither of the prostitutes has filed legal complaints, but French rules allow for an investigation even without a formal complaint.