The horror of his alleged crimes brought 350,000 people on to the streets of Brussels in 1996 to condemn the police and the justice system, which were widely perceived to have bungled the investigation.
And now in an unauthorised interview with a TV journalist who masqueraded as a politician's chauffeur to gain access to Dutroux's prison cell, Belgium's most hated man has alleged for the first time that he procured girls as young as eight for "the network".
His comments have caused uproar in Belgium where the victims' relatives have long claimed the existence of such a network and alleged that its activities were covered up because senior politicians and policemen were part of it.
"A network with all kinds of criminal activities really does exist," Dutroux told VTM, a Flemish TV station. "I maintained regular contacts with the people who made up this network. But the authorities don't want to look into it."
According to sources at VTM, which broadcast the programme last night, Dutroux claims that two of his victims - Melissa Russo and Julie Lejeune, both eight, who starved to death in special cages in his basement while he did a short stint in prison for theft - were not abducted for his own sexual gratification but for the network.
But Dutroux, who has been in jail since 1996 awaiting trial, repeatedly refused to name names in the interview but did admit direct complicity in the crimes and complained bitterly, not for the first time, about his prison conditions.
"I kept Julie and Melissa at my place and I kept An and Eefje [two of his other victims] there too so I'm not innocent," he conceded.
"I've been living like an animal [in prison] for the past five-and-a-half years and I'm really at the end of my tether."
Dutroux is due to stand trial at the end of this year at the earliest and is charged with kidnapping and abusing six girls aged between eight and 19, and killing four of them.
Sources at VTM admitted yesterday that his "revelations" might be a ploy to delay that trial, already long overdue, since the authorities are certain to come under immense pressure to reopen the entire investigation.
"He has always been manipulating the investigation," said Eric Goens, the editor in charge of the programme Telefacts. "And I think we should recognise that it could be a trick to force an investigation and get the trial postponed."
Gino Russo, father of Melissa, has reacted with horror to Dutroux's comments. "It's indecent," he said. "He says that he kept Julie and Melissa, so that's rape, kidnapping and sadism for starters. He talks about a network when we are already at the end of the investigation.
"It is now up to the judge to draw up the [trial] plan with what he has. If he says there is a network but offers no further details nothing will change. But if he cooperates then maybe the investigation will be restarted."
The Dutroux investigation was characterised by incompetence. At one point police visited the house where Julie and Melissa were being held and heard screaming but accepted Dutroux's explanation that it must have been children playing in the street.