Last Updated Feb 10, 2015 4:20 PM EST
LILLE, France -- Disgraced former International Monetary Fund boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn sat nonchalantly with folded-arms and stretched legs Tuesday, before telling a French court he was completely unaware that women who participated in orgies at luxury hotels in Paris and Washington were prostitutes.
Saying he was simply a "libertine who likes to party," the 65-year-old Strauss-Kahn took the stand in Lille, accused alongside 13 co-defendants of aggravated pimping in connection with a sex ring centered on the city's Hotel Carlton.
They are accused of operating a prostitution ring out of luxury hotels in Paris, Washington, Lille and Brussels.
One prostitute, who went by the name Jade, also testified - saying one scene evoked an ancient orgy.
"It was like antiquity: a man spread out on a bed with many women around... There weren't other men, so it wasn't about being a libertine. There was something that repulses me: the people and bodies blended together without condoms," she said, acknowledging that she didn't know who Strauss-Kahn was at the time.
She told the court she only recognized him only later on, when he appeared on TV, and exclaimed: "That's him, but with his clothes on."
The economist, known widely as DSK, faces up to 10 years in prison and a 1.5 million-euro ($1.7 million) fine if convicted.
The one-time French presidential hopeful, whose career was derailed by a separate sex scandal in New York, said he believed the women at these now-infamous orgies, which were held approximately every three months, were just part of "a group of friends."
In his first testimony since the trial began Feb. 2, Strauss-Kahn confidently reaffirmed his long-standing defense that he didn't know what was legally referred to as the "prostitutional character" of the women who took part in the soirees.
"I had a very hectic life, with just a few outlets for recreation, and these sessions were part of that," Strauss-Kahn explained to the court.
He added that he "would have totally stopped participating in these soirees" if he'd known they were prostitutes.
Another prostitute, called Mounia in court, testified that while she never discussed payment with Strauss-Kahn, everyone involved knew she was a prostitute. "For me it was clear that I was there as a prostitute," she said.
CBS News' Elaine Cobb reports that Strauss-Kahn, who refused to take a psychological evaluation, submitted a letter at the trial to psychological experts saying he had "committed neither crime nor offense."
The controversy surrounding one of France's most anticipated court cases in years was evident when three topless protesters from the provocative feminist group Femen disrupted Strauss-Kahn's arrival, one jumping on his car hood. They were later detained by police.
Two of Strauss-Kahn's co-defendants testified Tuesday that they'd kept hidden from Strauss-Kahn the fact that they'd hired prostitutes for the orgies. "It was a secret between him and me," Fabrice Paszkowski told the court, referring to fellow co-defendant David Roquet.
The court has so far heard testimony from some of Strauss-Kahn's fellow defendants, who include a Belgian brothel owner, local businessmen, a police officer and hotel staff accused of organizing sex parties for Strauss-Kahn's benefit.
It's not illegal to pay for sex in France, but it is against the law to solicit or to run a prostitution business.
Prostitutes questioned in the case have said that between 2009 and 2011 - when the IMF chief was dealing with a global financial crisis - Strauss-Kahn was organizing orgies at luxury hotels in Paris, at a restaurant in the French capital and also in Washington.