Will Dominique Strauss-Kahn's political career get a fresh start?

US sexual abuse charges against French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn may be dropped soon, but a French novelist now says she will charge him with attempted rape.

John Minchillo/AP
Former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves his temporary residence in Tribeca, on July 2, 2011, in New York.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn have may have won surprising new battles over his suitability as a presidential candidate in France's 2012 election – but is he losing the overall war?

New York media today report that sexual assault charges against Mr. Strauss-Kahn, the former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief and a French Socialist Party heavyweight, may be dropped in a matter of days.

But in a dramatic shift in the month-long saga, French novelist Tristane Banon – who has steadily accused Strauss-Kahn of violent sexual overtures – now says she will charge him with attempted rape in 2002.

The Banon charges hit at a time when a purported new French feminist pushback against unwanted male advances is competing in the French mind with a strong and proud claim that Strauss-Kahn has been exonerated and was victimized by an overeager and puzzling US judicial process.

“Banon’s claim will not prevent [Strauss-Kahn] from claiming victory if he gets a dismissal in the [New York sexual assault case],” says Paris commentator Karim Emile Bitar.

“Banon’s version of events might be close to the truth, but the alleged rape attempt took place eight years ago and [Strauss-Kahn's] battalions of lawyers and communication consultants have already started undermining her story and attacking her character. However, even if it does not end in a [Strauss-Kahn] conviction, Banon accusing him of acting like a ‘rutting chimpanzee’ will keep [his] antics on the front pages for a while, and this will complicate a smooth political comeback," he says.

Strauss-Kahn legal team fights back

The Strauss-Kahn legal team says it will sue Banon for defamation and called her allegations “imaginary.”

The new-old rape charge comes just as Strauss-Kahn’s numerous political allies are talking about his rehabilitation and a run for office after a stunning evident change in his fortunes.

It also arrives in a narrow window this month in which Socialist Party leaders must decide whether to waive party rules to allow Strauss-Kahn to join the 2012 French presidential bid.

About half the French in recent polls would like to see Strauss-Kahn enter French politics; that percentage has risen sharply when the question is put to the French left.

National soul-searching

Sexual assault charges against Strauss-Kahn altered global economic leadership in the midst of an austerity crisis, put what many French felt to be their next president out of the race, and sparked national soul-searching and a new feminist discourse in France where there wasn’t much of one before.

Last week brought the first smiles to Strauss-Kahn since he was hauled off an Air France jet waiting for take off May 14 and charged with rape. Prosecutors backed off charges based on the credibility of the accuser, described as unreliable by police investigators.

While police confirm a sexual encounter between Strauss-Kahn and a hotel housekeeper on May 14 between noon and 12:25 pm, the maid’s background details and her timeline of the story have been inconsistent enough to cause prosecutors to fold their hand on the original charge.

Banon's story

But now comes Banon, her lawyer, and an interview with her this week in L’Express that analysts say would likely not have been published prior to the New York hotel incident.

Banon was 22 and a cub reporter when she interviewed Strauss-Kahn in a Paris apartment. She says he leaped on her and tried to remove her blouse, bra, and jeans. The incident ended “very violently … I kicked him,” Banon said in a French TV interview in 2007. Strauss-Kahn’s name was deleted from the live airing of the program in keeping with a long tradition of propriety bordering on censorship in the French press regarding such allegations.

Banon, whose mother was a Socialist party official, and who counted Strauss-Kahn’s daughter Camille as her friend, decided not to start her writing career with a charge against a prominent French political figure and did not press charges at the time.

Banon’s mother, Anne Mansouret, has since described her daughter’s depression after the incident and has blamed herself for a role in talking Banon out of the charge.

“For once I want to have control over what is happening to me,” said Banon in the L’Express interview. “I want to be heard because perhaps, finally, there’s a chance that I will be listened to. I want only one thing: that he [Strauss-Kahn] returns to France with his presumption of innocence so we can go before the court.”



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