Dominique Strauss-Kahn case sees sudden shift

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: New revelations that Dominique Strauss-Kahn's accuser may not be credible could rehabilitate the political career of one of France's most powerful figures ahead of 2012 elections.

Allan Tannenbaum/AP
In this June 6 file photo, former IMF leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn appears at his arraignment on charges of sexually assaulting a Manhattan hotel maid, at State Supreme Court in New York.

France is truly stunned this morning and thrown into political uncertainty over reports that Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s accuser in an alleged hotel rape case appears to be unreliable.

The case against Mr. Strauss-Kahn, which caused him to resign as head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the midst of a European debt crisis and seemingly ended his bid for the French presidency, is “on the verge of collapse” according to a New York Times report citing a pair of "well-placed" law enforcement officials.

In France, senior political allies in the Socialist camp like Lionel Jospin and Jean-Marie Leguen immediately called for Strauss-Kahn’s “rehabilitation.” Strauss-Kahn's potential reentry into politics comes just as the field of presidential contenders is taking shape with the emergence of senior party leader François Hollande.

Some political figures called for a suspension of political primaries to allow Strauss-Kahn to speak out; one challenger from President Nicolas Sarkozy's own UMP party welcomed Strauss-Kahn back to the fight.

"This is like a thunderbolt, but it would be too early to bet on his return to politics,” said Mr. Jospin, a former prime minister and friend of Strauss-Kahn. After the gauntlet Strauss-Kahn has endured, and if charges are dropped, “it would first be up to him to decide about what to do. Then only will it be up to the Socialists and the Socialist leaders to make a decision. Honestly, it is too early to [speak on] this,” Jospin said.

Revelations put maid's credibility in doubt

Talk radio in France is convulsed over the US judicial process that put Strauss-Kahn on the coals; prior to the May 14 charge many here assumed he would either be the next president or the runner-up. Nearly all the information circulating in France is based on the Times report.

According to the Times, there is "unambiguous" evidence of a sexual incident involving Strauss-Kahn and a maid who entered his suite at the Sofitel hotel. However the maid, a Guinean woman, who has been depicted in media reports as quiet and reliable, has “repeatedly lied” to police about her status and personal life.

After the alleged Strauss-Kahn incident she phoned a friend incarcerated in jail for possession of 400 pounds of marijuana, to seek advice on treating with the French senior politician. The conversation was taped. Also reportedly discovered were stashes of unattributed money deposited in the bank accounts held by the maid in several states

Prosecutors met yesterday with Strauss-Kahn's lawyers to share their findings. The revelations are likely to raise credibility problems for an accuser who, while relying on forensic evidence for her accusation of sexual assault, faces a “he said-she said” debate on the rape charge. Strauss-Kahn, often called “DSK” in France, pleaded not guilty in his arraignment.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s bail and judicial status could reportedly ease as early as today.

Olivier Mazerolles, a political editor on BFM-TV, expressed anger at the US system that put DSK on a perp walk and an highly public arraignment that would not have an equivalent in France:

"The French could wonder: 'This man was wrongly accused. This is absolutely scandalous,” Mr. Mazerolles said. “And if he did [have sexual relations] with that maid, it's none of our business. We don't give a damn about it'."

Debate over France's "old boy" attitudes

Indeed, as the drama unfolds days before the French finance minister, Christine Lagarde takes over DSK’s position as IMF chief, a more touchy subject is the French approach to the alleged dalliances of political elites, and to “old boy” attitudes by French males that in many places would be considered sexist or harassing.

In the aftermath of the May 14 rape charge that hit France with terrific force, a wave of senior officials and opinion leaders lept to his defense. After several days the discussion evolved toward cases of male elites’ unwanted treatment of women that went unreported under the invisible rules of media here. One steady accusation by Tristane Banon, a journalist who said DSK groped her in an interview, had been ignored or shouted down for years. After May 14, French women used the DSK charge to call for a new “feminist moment” to help change old habits.

The philosopher-writer Bernard Henri-Levy who was attacked for calling the initial rape charge a "blah-blah affair" said today that it is "always wrong to trample on the presumption of innocence."

Bernard Debré, a ruling party member of the National Assembly from the 16th district of Paris who had disparaged Strauss-Kahn in the aftermath of the hotel incident, climbed back slightly today on French TV: "I completely recognize that I was too quick … if the facts on this woman's life turn out to be accurate, it means she fooled all the people working at the Sofitel. … I over-reacted because I thought, knowing a part of the Banon affair and a certain number of things, that this was the last straw.” Then he added: “We know that he had a sexual intercourse with the maid as there is DNA… I am not expressing a moral judgment. I'm saying that there are facts, are the French ready to accept them?"

An immediate outcome of the apparent U-turn in events will be a cry to “stop the presses” on some five books about to be published in France on the DSK affair, according to L’Express. One, written by Philippe Martinat, was to be called, "Docteur Strauss et Mister Kahn."


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