Strauss-Kahn charges dropped

irishtimes.com – Last Updated: Monday, August 22, 2011, 21:27

New York prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss sexual assault charges
against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn today, a stunning
reversal that could revive the political future of a man many had seen
as the next president of France.

Prosecutors gave up hope they could convict Mr Strauss-Kahn after
losing faith in their star witness, Nafissatou Diallo (32), a hotel
maid from Guinea who alleged that Mr Strauss-Kahn emerged naked from
the bathroom of his luxury suite on May 14th and forced her to perform
oral sex.

Mr Strauss-Kahn (62), had vehemently declared his innocence. Some
political supporters were convinced the allegations were part of a
set-up meant to destroy his chances of unseating French president
Nicolas Sarkozy in next April’s election.

Mr Strauss-Kahn is looking forward to a court hearing on Tuesday when
the New York judge is expected to dismiss the charges, the Frenchman’s
lawyers said.

“We have maintained from the beginning of this case that our client is
innocent,” lawyers William Taylor and Benjamin Brafman said after
prosecutors filed court papers recommending dismissal of the charges.

“We also maintained that there were many reasons to believe that Mr.
Strauss-Kahn’s accuser was not credible,” the statement added.

“Mr. Strauss-Kahn and his family are grateful that the District
Attorney’s office took our concerns seriously and concluded on its own
that this case cannot proceed further. We look forward to attending
the hearing on Tuesday.”

Though Mr Strauss-Kahn is free to return to French politics, his image
was damaged and the Socialist party would have to make an exception to
allow him into the presidential race at this late date. A poll
released in July showed two-thirds of French people do not want him to
be a candidate.

He also still faces a civil lawsuit that Ms Diallo filed against him
on August 8th and a complaint from a French writer who said he tried
to rape her during a 2003 interview.

After detectives pulled him off the first-class section of a
Paris-bound jet on the day of the purported attack on Ms Diallo, his
arrest sent shockwaves across the globe.

Charming and multilingual, the silver-haired Mr Strauss-Kahn had
gained esteem for reforming the International Monetary Fund as
managing director, injecting it with transparency and accountability.
Then his stature took a mighty fall.

The accuser, Ms Diallo, painted a vivid picture of what she said
happened in Suite 2806 of the Sofitel hotel near Times Square, saying
a naked Mr Strauss-Kahn chased her down a hall and into the bedroom
and forced her to perform oral sex.

She said she broke free and that he dragged her into a bathroom where
he forced himself on her again.

But her credibility was later thrown into question when prosecutors
revealed she had told authorities numerous lies, including fabricating
a story about being gang-raped in Guinea in order to gain US asylum.
She also changed details of her story about what happened following
the purported assault.

US media at first kept her identity secret, respecting a practice not
to name sexual assault accusers, until she came forward in an
interview with Newsweek magazine and ABC News in late July.

“I want justice. I want him to go to jail. I want him to know that
there is some place you cannot use your money, you cannot use your
power, when you do something like this,” she said tearfully in the ABC
interview.

According to her lawyers, prosecutors said they turned up a recorded
conversation between Ms Diallo and a man detained in an Arizona jail
in which, speaking in the West African dialect Fulani, she said “words
to the effect” that “this guy has a lot of money. I know what I am
doing”.

Such a conversation could provide Mr Strauss-Kahn’s defence lawyers
with ammunition to attack Ms Diallo’s motives, although she denied
referring to his wealth and her lawyers said the quote was not on the
tape, according to an interpreter hired by prosecutors.

Mr Strauss-Kahn resigned from the IMF four days after his arrest,
while he was still being held without bail in New York’s notorious
Rikers Island, a massive complex of 10 jails renowned for gang
violence and well known to viewers of television crime dramas.

He later was granted house arrest after posting $1 million cash bail
and a $5 million insurance company bond, staying in a $50,000-a-month
townhouse in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighbourhood with an electronic
monitor clamped to his ankle. He paid another $150,000 a month for a
security detail that included armed guards.

The case also brought up troubling stories from Mr Strauss-Kahn’s past
as a womaniser who flirted with female journalists covering him, and
revived the story of a controversial affair he once had with a
subordinate at the IMF. He was nicknamed “the great seducer”.

The Paris prosecutor has opened a preliminary inquiry into a complaint
filed by French journalist Tristane Banon, who says Mr Strauss-Kahn
unhooked her bra and tried to open her jeans as she kicked him in what
ended up as fight on the floor. Now free of New York charges, he must
mount a new defence in France.

However, a judicial source said the French complaint was likely to be
shelved as prosecutors were struggling to find evidence to support a
charge of attempted rape. A statute of limitations on a lesser crime
of sexual aggression has already expired.

Other French women have seized on the cases to air their grievances
about sexism in the professional sphere, shifting the conversation
beyond commentaries on America’s prudish views on sex to a national
assessment of French machismo.

Yet his own wife, the wealthy and well-known former television
journalist Anne Sinclair, seemed forgiving of his reputed behaviour.

“No, I’m rather proud of it!” she told the French weekly L’Express in
a 2006 interview. “It’s important to seduce, for a politician. As long
as I seduce him and he seduces me, that’s enough for me.”

It also exposed a French-American rift on the rights of criminal
defendants. Many French were outraged at Mr Strauss-Kahn’s “perp walk”
– perp is short for perpetrator – when detectives paraded a
handcuffed, unshaven defendant before media cameras while the identity
of his accuser was kept private.

In the end, the accuser’s credibility issues were so severe that the
Manhattan District Attorney’s office agreed to release Mr Strauss-Kahn
from house arrest without bail on July 1st.

In his first taste of freedom in six weeks, Mr Strauss-Kahn and Ms
Sinclair went out for dinner at Scalinatella, an Italian restaurant in
Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Meanwhile, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance was forced to eat
his words. After portraying the accuser as a traumatised victim who
offered a consistent and credible story about being attacked, Mr Vance
was forced to backtrack and ultimately surrender, an embarrassing
setback sure to be an issue when he is up for re-election in 2013.