New York prosecutors preparing to decide on Strauss-Kahn case
In a week, Dominique Strauss-Kahn could be a free man. Or not.
Prosecutors are expected to tell a Manhattan judge next Tuesday whether they want to proceed with a criminal trial against the 62-year-old French financier accused of trying to rape a housekeeper in his Manhattan hotel suite in May.
The prosecutors have been evaluating whether to drop the charges since discovering that the alleged victim, Nafissatou Diallo, misled them about her background and certain facts of the incident; most troubling apparently was the tearful account she gave government investigators -- which she later recanted -- of how she was gang-raped in her native Guinea.
This and other inconsistencies in Diallo’s claims could make it tricky for prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to 12 jurors that she was telling the truth when she reported to them and hotel employees that Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, tried to rape her.
As the hearing approaches, advocates for both Diallo and Strauss-Kahn have been previewing their version of events in the media and elsewhere.
This week, sources close to Strauss-Kahn told Newsweek that, after he wouldn’t pay her to perform oral sex, Diallo got angry and told hotel employees he tried to rape her. The sources suggested that Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers “may also try to portray Diallo, 32, as an ‘earner’ who tried to pick up cash and gifts to supplement her $40,000 housekeeper’s salary, creating financial motive to interpret some of the evidence in new light.”
Diallo, a single mother who has been in this country for seven years, has insisted that she did not agree to have sex with Strauss-Kahn when she went to clean his room and that he then brutally attacked her, ripping off her stockings and injuring her vagina and shoulder.
Her lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, said that, since the attack, Diallo's reputation has taken an additional beating both by prosecutors questioning her credibility and through an ugly smear campaign in the media. He filed a libel suit on behalf of Diallo against the New York Post for quoting unnamed sources saying she was in the habit of selling sex for money. He also orchestrated a series of public appearances for Diallo to defend herself, and he filed a civil lawsuit designed to get her views on the record and win her compensation for her pain.
In the civil complaint against Strauss-Kahn, Thompson also took a shot at prosecutors, noting, “There have been leaks to the news media of false information about Ms. Diallo, apparently by members of the Manhattan district attorney’s office, that have severely damaged Ms. Diallo’s credibility, reputation and character.”
The debate underway in Manhattan Dist. Atty. Cyrus Vance’s office about the case, which has been watched around the world, has so far been closely held. A spokeswoman for Vance's office declined to comment except to say prosecutors “are still investigating” and that they will, indeed, appear in court next Tuesday.
But if the past is a precursor of coming events, tidbits of innuendo and new facts will continue to trickle out in the New York and French media.
In France, supporters of Strauss-Kahn, who was a leading contender to be the country's next president, are expecting him home any day -- as a free man. Christophe Giltay, who has a blog called Champs-Elysées (link is in French), wrote that people already are talking of his return to Paris as soon as the day after the hearing and of his bright political future: "We know it will be easier to completely clear Dominique Strauss-Kahn than to revive the accusation."
In the meantime, the newspaper France Soir has consulted a psychologist to interpret certain "gestures" of the players in the case (only in France, non?).
According to criminal profiler Joseph Messinger, who insists "gestures speak without us knowing," Dominique Strauss-Kahn's gestures show a man who is "alert and ready to fight." Of his wife, Anne Sinclair, Messinger says: "This woman is unbreakable. She feels betrayed, not by the problems of her husband, but in the race for the [presidency] that she was organizing for him." Carrying her handbag in right hand and not on the shoulder shows "she is very perturbed." Diallo? "This woman wants us to believe she is more simple than she really is," says Messinger, adding that she shows signs of "a narcissistic personality."
For Hollywood’s sake, the faster this is all sorted out the better: Reuters is reporting that television’s long-running series “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” will open its season Sept. 21 with an episode about an Italian dignitary who is accused of rape.
--Geraldine Baum in New York, with Kim Willsher from Paris
Photo: Nafissatou Diallo speaks to reporters during a news conference in July. Her lawyer Kenneth Thompson is on the left. Credit: Associated Press