LONDON — The scandal probably would have been a ho-hum tale of sex and bondage of little interest to jaded Europeans were it not for two things. The man holding the whip was one of the most powerful men in motor racing. And when he ordered his "prisoners" to submit, he was speaking in a practiced German that called up disturbing images of a distant past.
The man was Max Mosley, president of the international body that governs Formula One racing -- and the son of Oswald Mosley, the controversial founder in the 1930s of the pro-Nazi British Union of Fascists.
Mosley's five-hour encounter with five women in a bondage orgy has prompted accusations of Nazi role-playing and engulfed the Formula One world in a leadership crisis, prompting the sport's ruling body Wednesday to announce that its governing assembly would meet June 3 to decide whether Mosley can keep his post.
The controversy heated up even further when a judge in Britain allowed Rupert Murdoch's News of the World to air on its website a videotape excerpt of the encounter between Mosley and the women. The racing chief says the session was a consensual adult gathering and the airing of the tape an invasion of his privacy.
The newspaper also published an interview with a woman who said she was one of several prostitutes hired by Mosley to pose as prisoners and Nazi guards.
The website's traffic immediately jumped, by 600%, as did the troubles of the 67-year-old Mosley. He now faces calls from Formula One drivers, manufacturers and automobile associations to resign as president of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, world motor sports' governing body.
Mosley's parents were interned during World War II because of their support for the Nazi regime in Germany. His mother was the former Diana Mitford Guinness, one of the celebrated Mitford society sisters. She and Oswald Mosley were married in 1936 in the Berlin home of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels, and Diana Mosley claimed until her death to have been "very, very fond" of Adolf Hitler.
Max Mosley had his own run-ins during his youth in defense of his father. But he has long sought to shed his past and to pursue both a law career and his long-standing love affair with motor sports, becoming one of the most powerful figures in Formula One.
He has admitted having a sex session with the women but says it had nothing to do with Nazism. He said he speaks German in parts of the video because one of his sex partners was German.
The guard uniforms, he said, were not Nazi apparel but featured a modern German air force jacket, while the women were wearing not concentration camp uniforms but U.S. prison garb.
"It goes without saying that the so-called Nazi element is pure fabrication. This will become crystal-clear when the matter comes to trial," Mosley said after filing suit against News of the World, alleging invasion of privacy.
"I don't think any of this should affect my work on motoring safety, the environment or the sport," he said. "I believe that 21st century adults do not worry about private sexual matters as long as they are legal and harmless."
But News of the World and its lawyers said Wednesday that many questions remained about Mosley's account.
"Why are German military uniforms worn? Why does he issue orders and threats in German to women who cannot speak German? . . . Why are the victims of these beatings in German made to put on sinister striped uniforms?" Tom Crone, News Group Newspapers' legal manager, said in a statement. "Why the head lice inspections, the forced shaving of body hair and the sinister references to inmates being housed in 'facilities'?"
The newspaper itself was even more hard-hitting in its leading article Sunday.
"Formula One boss Max Mosley is a grotesque sexual deviant who acts out Nazi death-camp fetishes," it proclaimed. "His feeble, bleating assertion that his sex acts are 'harmless' flies in the face of the evidence. . . . We absolutely refute and challenge his assertion that we have invented any elements of his depravity."
Mosley apparently learned German when his parents sent him to study for two years in Bavaria at the age of 13.
In one portion of the video, which the court said was made when one of the women "was able to conceal a camera in such clothing as she was wearing," Mosley counts in German, according to a transcript also posted: "Maybe a few more beatings. . . . Eins! Zwei! Drei! Vier! Funf! Sechs!" he says as he spanks one of the women with a strap.
Later, he speaks English with a German-like accent. "Zey need more of ze punishment, I think," he says.
Mosley had asked a court to order the News of the World to continue its voluntary removal of the video from its website after its original publication March 30. But Justice David Eady declined, saying it was too late to protect his privacy -- the material was already too widely available on the Internet.