IMF chief ‘will be cleared’

2011-05-23 08:41

New York – The lead attorney for ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn has expressed confidence that his client will be cleared of sexual assault and attempted rape charges levelled against him by a hotel chambermaid.

The French politician, until recently considered a serious contender for France’s presidency, was holed up in a Broadway apartment under armed guard while efforts were made to find him a more permanent home to prepare his defence.

Benjamin Brafman, who handled the child-sex case against the late Michael Jackson, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz he was confident that Strauss-Kahn would go free.

“He’ll plead not guilty and in the end he’ll be acquitted,” Brafman said during a family visit to Israel.

“Nothing is certain, but from what I’ve discerned in the investigation, he will be acquitted. He has impressed me very much. Despite the circumstances, he’s doing well.”

Strauss-Kahn (62) faces seven charges over the alleged attempted rape of a worker at the Sofitel hotel in New York.

The Muslim woman told police she was forced to carry out sex acts on the former French finance minister in his suite and that he tried to rip her clothes off.

Prosecutors told a bail hearing last week that they are building up a “strong” case and that the evidence so far backs the woman’s claims. There has been no announcement however on whether police have found DNA evidence.

Brafman also told France’s TF1 television, in a brief interview in Israel, that he’s confident that “the charges will be proved false” and that he’s working to restore Strauss-Kahn’s “very good name”.

Strauss-Kahn paid $1 million (R6.9 million) in cash and deposited a $5-million insurance bond to secure bail. He must wear an electronic bracelet and live under constant video camera surveillance with an armed private guard – and pay for those services.

Security conditions for his bail alone cost more than $200 000 a month, prosecutors say.

The former IMF chief currently resides at the Empire Building at 71 Broadway, a stone’s throw from Wall Street and the Ground Zero site of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Tour buses going by the building point out its now notorious temporary resident.

Strauss-Kahn is only allowed to leave that apartment for a medical emergency though he will be able to go to his lawyer, a doctor or a synagogue when a more permanent home is found.

He will have to appear in court again on June 6 to formally enter his plea, with a full trial likely months away.

Strauss-Kahn, who is hugely wealthy through his heiress wife Anne Sinclair, has also hired a powerful team of private investigators to fight his 32-year-old accuser’s case.

Defence lawyers have so far given little indication of their strategy against the maid’s claims that a naked Strauss-Kahn chased her through the hotel room where she’d gone to clean, then forced her into oral sex.

However, there have been hints that the lawyers will say a consensual sexual encounter took place.

A report published yesterday by an online investigative journalism site, the Center for Public Integrity, sheds light on what took place in the hour after the alleged assault.

Citing anonymous sources, the report said the maid was “traumatised” after fleeing the hotel room. It said that during four separate interviews with supervisors and two hotel security officers, she gave consistent accounts of what allegedly took place.

The maid was visibly shaking and spitting as she described the events. The hotel security chief ultimately deemed her story credible and called police at 1.30pm (local time), the centre’s story said.

Hours later, Strauss-Kahn was pulled off an Air France plane moments before its scheduled departure to Paris.

In France, Interior Minister Claude Gueant told local radio that if Strauss-Kahn was found guilty and asked to come to France to serve out a prison term there, “the French government would support his request”.

Gueant said the sex-crime accusations have damaged France’s image abroad.

Some 500 people turned out yesterday in Paris for a protest by feminist groups against a wave of sexist commentary generated by Strauss-Kahn’s arrest.

Strauss-Kahn supporters in France took to the airwaves, blogs and newspaper columns to defend him, attack US justice and, in some cases, to question the integrity of the alleged victim.

“The problem is not what happened in New York, but the tide of sexism that followed it,” declared Caroline Haas, president of Dare Feminism and one of the event organisers.

“We are all chambermaids,” declared one of the banners unfurled in front of Paris’ iconic Pompidou Centre gallery complex. “No means no!”

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