Strauss-Kahn maid hits back

2011-07-25 22:12
The cover of Newsweek’s issue featuring Nafissatou Diallo, the maid accusing Dominique Strauss-Kahn of assaulting her in a Manhattan hotel room. (AP Photo/Newsweek)

The cover of Newsweek’s issue featuring Nafissatou Diallo, the maid accusing Dominique Strauss-Kahn of assaulting her in a Manhattan hotel room. (AP Photo/Newsweek)

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New York - The New York maid whose sex assault accusation brought down powerful French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn has burst from the shadows - and the illiterate immigrant won't go back without a fight.

After 10 weeks in hiding, Nafissatou Diallo's decision to speak to Newsweek magazine, then hit the airwaves on ABC, yet again upturned the scandal that erupted on May 14 after she went to clean Strauss-Kahn's luxury room in the Manhattan Sofitel.

The two interviews on Sunday and Monday pierced the mystery surrounding the complainant in one of the most sensational criminal cases to rock the world of globe-trotting VIPs in years.

Faceless and nameless until now; Diallo revealed herself as an animated 32-year-old from Guinea in West Africa with dark, straightened hair, large eyes and a harrowing story of being forced into oral sex and fearing for her life.

And at a moment when prosecutors are suggesting they might drop charges because they are worried about the maid's credibility, Diallo was adamant that she won't retreat.

"I want justice. I want him to go to jail. I want him to know you cannot use your power when you want to do something like this," she told ABC.

Until now whatever details that were known about Diallo came from lawyers, prosecutors, or leaks from investigators.

But while Strauss-Kahn - who was head of the International Monetary Fund and a strong contender to be next French president at the time of the alleged crime - was already a public figure, no one had heard a word from Diallo herself.

Kill me

In the ABC interview, she talks forcefully in heavily accented, but mostly fluent English about the sequence of events she says took place in the 28th floor suite at Sofitel.

She recounted the incident, saying Strauss-Kahn emerged naked from a shower to "grab my breasts" and despite her pleas, forced her head down to his penis.

When she found out the identity of her alleged attacker, she referred to her troubled past in Guinea to explain why she feared for the worst.

"They're going to kill me", she said. "I know if that was in my country, he's a powerful man like that, they're going to kill me before someone knows."

Strauss-Kahn's experienced legal team is characterising the media blitz as an attempt to pressure prosecutors into going ahead with the criminal case, without which a potentially lucrative civil lawsuit might have trouble gaining traction.

But Diallo appears also to want to reclaim her public image after having been painted in tabloid newspapers as a gold digger, and even a prostitute.

In the lengthy Newsweek interview, she talked with pride about cleaning the 28th floor at Sofitel and the fear she had about losing her job.

The $25 an hour post was described as a dream job that lifted her from the insecurity and poverty of a single mother immigrant who had previously worked in a hair salon and a Bronx food store after escaping a hard life in Guinea in 2003.

Lose my job

"I loved the job. I liked the people. All different countries, American, African, and Chinese. But we were the same there," she said.

Allegedly while under attack by Strauss-Kahn, she pushed back but did not use all her strength: "I don't want to hurt him", she told Newsweek. "I don't want to lose my job".

Inconsistencies about her life in Guinea - as well as about the precise chronology of events in the hotel - have fed both into prosecutors' doubts and defence allegations that she is making up the sex assault.

The two interviews seemed aimed at straightening out some of those inconsistencies, but are unlikely to settle the issue.

She told Newsweek that in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, she was raped by two soldiers and made to clean up the scene. However she was fuzzy about the date, eventually saying it happened in 2001.

Asked about her former husband, she said simply that he'd died of "an illness," as did an infant daughter, though whether at three or four months she wasn't sure.

Whether such inaccuracies point to a poorly educated immigrant with a turbulent life, or evidence of a woman fabricating a sex assault accusation is under debate.

Prosecutors have already said she admitted lying in her application for asylum to the United States and also cheated on tax returns in order to qualify for housing benefits.

But the maid, who told Newsweek she was the daughter of an imam in rural Guinea, said she had no hidden agenda.

"We are poor, but we are good," she said.

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