Ex-IMF chief goes to court as sex case said to crumble

2011-07-01 14:14

New York – Former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn heads to a US court today for a surprise appearance over the sexual assault case against him, after revelations that prosecutors have admitted major problems with his accuser’s credibility.

The prominent French politician and one-time presidential hopeful resigned from his post at the world’s crisis lender to battle charges that he sexually assaulted and attempted to rape a hotel maid in his luxury hotel suite in Manhattan on May 14.

But yesterday, The New York Times, citing two law-enforcement sources close to the sensational case, said that though there was clear evidence a sexual encounter took place, prosecutors did not believe much of the version of events told by the Guinean-born maid and suspect she has repeatedly lied to them.

Sources close to the case also told US media that Strauss-Kahn’s accuser had lied on her application for asylum, including about a past claim of rape.

“It is a mess, a mess on both sides,” one official told the Times, indicating that prosecutors, who met with defence lawyers yesterday, would tell the judge they “have problems with the case”.

If confirmed, such doubts could mark a stunning reversal in the case that has upended politics in France – where Strauss-Kahn was once seen as a likely presidential candidate – and prompted a change in leadership at the IMF at a time of major upheaval in the eurozone.

Word that the case might crumble has raised hopes among France’s opposition Socialists that a vindicated Strauss-Kahn might return to help them drive President Nicolas Sarkozy from office in next year’s elections.

“It’s a thunderbolt – but in the opposite direction this time,” said Socialist former prime minister Lionel Jospin.

Officials in the US said that within a day of the alleged rape attempt, the maid was recorded speaking on the phone with a man jailed for possessing 180kg of marijuana and discussing the benefits of pursuing charges.

The Times said he is one of several individuals who made multiple cash deposits, totalling about $100 000 (R676 500), into the woman’s bank account over the last two years.

It said today’s unscheduled hearing – now set for 3.30pm (GMT) – would likely alter the strict bail conditions imposed on Strauss-Kahn, allowing him to travel freely within the US, and that lawyers were discussing dismissing the felony charges.

The district attorney’s office may ask Strauss-Kahn to plead guilty to a misdemeanour, but his lawyers would contest such a move, the daily added.

Among the discoveries, one official told the newspaper, are issues involving the asylum application of the 32-year-old housekeeper and her possible links to criminal activities, including drug dealing and money laundering.

One unnamed source took the asylum issue further, telling NBC television in New York that when prosecutors returned to question the woman, she admitted “she lied to them, and on the application about the whole rape claim”.

While that claim is unrelated to Strauss-Kahn, his accuser’s apparent false accusations earlier may have raised warning flags for prosecutors, and provided his defence team a significant tool with which to pick apart her credibility.

Officials declined to reveal the reason for today’s hearing.

“No details about this appearance will be available until the defendant appears in court tomorrow,” the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said yesterday. The former French finance minister had not been expected back in court until July 18.

Strauss-Kahn had posted $1 million bail and a $5 million bond when he was released in May and agreed to remain under house arrest with an ankle monitor.

Earlier yesterday, French newspaper Liberation, citing Strauss-Kahn’s defence lawyers, said he was likely to challenge the legality of the lineup that took place a day after his arrest, when the alleged victim picked him out.

Strauss-Kahn had spent days in New York’s tough Rikers Island jail pending the bail agreement, but is now awaiting trial in his luxury rental apartment in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighbourhood. He has denied all charges against him.

The Strauss-Kahn affair has sent shock waves through France, where many initially believed he was the victim of a political conspiracy and slammed New York police for forcing him to endure a “perp walk” before the world media.

And in Guinea, the accuser’s brother described his sister as a “decent girl” and rejected claims his sister could be involved in criminal activities.

“I categorically deny the accusations against my sister on her alleged involvement in drug dealing and money laundering,” Mamadou Dian Diallo told AFP and French international radio in the capital Conakry.

“This is untrue. We are the descendants of very religious Muslim scholars, we cannot let ourselves get carried away by the easy gain of money.”

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