New York DA likely to drop Strauss-Kahn case
Prosecutors are likely to drop the sexual assault case that spurred Dominique Strauss-Kahn to resign as head of the International Monetary Fund and upended French politics before it was riven by questions about his accuser's credibility, a person familiar with the case said late Sunday.world Updated: Aug 22, 2011 10:50 IST
Prosecutors are likely to drop the sexual assault case that spurred Dominique Strauss-Kahn to resign as head of the International Monetary Fund and upended French politics before it was riven by questions about his accuser's credibility, a person familiar with the case said late Sunday.
After a sharp turn in a case it once called strong, the Manhattan District Attorney's office probably will tell the woman Monday that it won't pursue the case, both because prosecutors don't have evidence proving a forced sexual encounter and because she has a history of lies and inconsistencies that make it impossible to ask a jury to believe her, the person said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters not yet made public.
The likely developments would bring a formal end to the case at Strauss-Kahn's next court date on Tuesday, when prosecutors may ask a judge to dismiss the charges and might elaborate on their reasoning.
The case had teetered after capturing international attention as a seeming cauldron of sex, violence, power and politics: A promising French presidential contender, known in his homeland as "the Great Seducer," accused of a brutal and contemptuous attack on an African immigrant who came to clean his plush hotel suite. The stakes were high for both Strauss-Kahn - who resigned his IMF post, spent nearly a week behind bars and then spent possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars on house arrest - and for DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who was handling the biggest case he has had during his 18 months in office.
One of Strauss-Kahn's lawyers, Benjamin Brafman, didn't immediately respond to an email message Sunday, after the New York Post first reported prosecutors' likely decision to drop the case. The DA's office declined to comment.
The hotel maid's lawyer had predicted prosecutors would tell her on Monday they were dropping the case. The attorney, Kenneth Thompson, told France's RTL radio on Sunday that the woman, Nafitassou Diallo, "feels abandoned by the Manhattan District Attorney." The questions raised about her credibility have made her feel "that she's being investigated more than Strauss-Kahn," he said.
Then considered a promising Socialist candidate for the French presidency, Strauss-Kahn, 62, was arrested in May. Diallo, 32, said the diplomat chased her down and forced her to perform oral sex when she arrived to clean his plush suite at the Sofitel hotel.
Strauss-Kahn denied the allegations. Brafman and fellow Strauss-Kahn lawyer William W. Taylor III have said anything that happened wasn't forced. Thompson calls that "utter nonsense."
Like many sexual assault cases, in which the accused and accuser are often the only eyewitnesses, the Strauss-Kahn case has hinged heavily on the woman's believability.
Early on, prosecutors stressed that Diallo had provided "a compelling and unwavering story" replete with "very powerful details" and buttressed by forensic evidence; his semen was found on her uniform. The police commissioner said seasoned detectives had found her credible.
But then prosecutors said July 1 they'd found the maid had told them a series of troubling falsehoods, including a persuasive but phony account of having been gang-raped in her native Guinea. She said she was echoing a story she'd told to enhance her 2003 application for political asylum. She told interviewers she was raped in her homeland under other circumstances and embellished it to get herself and her 15-year-old daughter a chance at a better life in the US.
She also wasn't consistent about what she did after her encounter with Strauss-Kahn, telling a grand jury she had hovered in a hallway when she actually returned to his and another room before consulting her boss, prosecutors said. She said the alleged discrepancy was a misunderstanding.
Furthermore, she had alluded to Strauss-Kahn's wealth in a recorded phone conversation with a jailed friend, and her bank account had been a repository for tens of thousands of dollars she couldn't explain, a law enforcement official has said.
She said the jailed man had used the bank account without telling her. As for the phone call, her lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, said she mentioned Strauss-Kahn's money only to say that her alleged attacker was influential.
Overall, Diallo said she had made some mistakes, but they shouldn't dissuade prosecutors from pressing ahead with the case.
Meanwhile, she sued Strauss-Kahn Aug 8, seeking unspecified damages and promising to air other allegations that Strauss-Kahn accosted and attacked women in other locales.
His lawyers called her suit a meritless claim that proved she was out for money. Diallo said she was standing up for herself and other women.
"What happened to me, I don't want it to happen to any other woman, because this is just too much for me," she said during a July 28 appearance at a Brooklyn Christian center.
After saying last month that questions about her credibility had weakened the criminal case, prosecutors found themselves in a standoff with their key witness as the public dissected their handling of the case.
While some lawyers and commentators said prosecutors had been blinded by the high-wattage case and took too aggressive a stance at the start, Diallo's lawyer blasted the DA as "too afraid" to try the case and called for a special prosecutor. Two state lawmakers joined women's, immigrant and other advocates at rallies calling for prosecutors to keep pursing the case.
Even among legal experts, there's been a divide about what the DA should do. To some, the combination of maid Diallo's damaged credibility and her lawsuit were too high a hurdle for prosecutors to keep the case going.
"Knowing what you now know as the DA, if you go forward with this case, and you lose this case, is there going to be any end to second-guessers?" said Marcellus McRae, a former federal prosecutor and now a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles.
But others saw reasons for prosecutors to press ahead.
"If they believe the thing happened, despite all these questions about her credibility, and despite having maybe only a 50-50 chance of succeeding at trial, they should proceed," said Joel Cohen, also a former federal prosecutor who's now a defense lawyer in New York.
The DA's office has said prosecutors did the right thing "at every step of the way": first by pursuing what they saw as a credible allegation, supported by DNA evidence, and then by promptly disclosing the doubts they had developed.
In Europe, the case has stirred questions about Strauss-Kahn's dealings with women, soul-searching about what some see as a political culture of masculine privilege, and a fresh criminal complaint from French novelist Tristane Banon, who says Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her in 2002. His lawyers have called her account "imaginary." French authorities have been investigating it, and New York prosecutors met at one point with Banon's lawyer.
The Associated Press generally doesn't name people who report being sexually assaulted unless they agree to be identified or publicly identify themselves, as Diallo and Banon have done.
First Published: Aug 22, 2011 10:44 IST