Lawyers for Dominique Strauss-Kahn appeared at a New York court Wednesday on the first day of a civil suit filed against him by a hotel maid, who has accused the former IMF chief of trying to rape her last year.
Nafissatou Diallo, the 32-year-old Guinean-born hotel maid, has said Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted her in his Sofitel hotel room in New York last May. Four days after his arrest, on May 14, Strauss-Kahn resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund.
A criminal case against the 62-year-old French former politician was dropped the following August after prosecutors expressed doubts over Diallo’s credibility.
Wednesday’s civil suit is Diallo’s last chance to hold Strauss-Kahn accountable for what her lawyer has called “violent and deplorable acts”.
Reporting from New York, FRANCE 24’s Nathan King said Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers are likely to argue that he had diplomatic immunity under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Specialized Agencies.
“This is a big hearing for Dominique Strauss-Kahn because basically his lawyers are going to try to get it thrown out,” said King. “They’re going to say he had diplomatic immunity under the specialised agencies convention of 1947, which covers the UN and other agencies like the IMF. They are going to say that even though the US is not a signatory to that treaty, he was covered at the time of what happened in that New York hotel room – and even after he resigned from the IMF.”
Diallo’s lawyers, on the other hand, are likely to argue that the treaty does not cover the United States and that it does not cover him after he resigned from the IMF.
According to King, lawyers for the New York hotel maid may also argue that “what happened in that hotel room was of a very personal nature and he was there on personal business and not part of the IMF”.
Based on the evidence provided, the judge has then to decide whether to dismiss the suit.
According to King, however, some legal experts say the lawsuit may be settled before the judge has made a decision.
“Lawyers we’ve been speaking to say the amount could be a million dollars or less,” said King.
Neither Strauss-Kahn nor his accuser are likely to attend Wednesday’s hearing at the Bronx Supreme Court in New York.
From Sofitel to ‘the Carlton Affair’
The civil suit in New York is the latest twist in a sordid transatlantic saga that has effectively killed the political career of a man who was once considered the frontrunner for the Socialist Party candidacy for the 2012 presidential race.
In a separate case in his native France, Strauss-Kahn has been placed under formal investigation for his alleged involvement in a prostitution ring.
DSK and the Carlton Affair
Authorities in the northern French city of Lille are investigating what they believe was a prostitution ring involving prominent city figures and police.
Prosecutors suspect Strauss-Kahn of being involved in the organisation of “libertine” sex parties at restaurants and hotels in both France and the United States, dubbed “the Carlton Affair” by the French media because of the luxury Lille hotel where many of the gatherings took place.
On Tuesday, lawyers representing Strauss-Kahn told reporters that the charges against him were “hollow, empty and overblown”.
There is “no serious evidence” against Strauss-Kahn, said Henri Leclerc, one of the three lawyers representing the disgraced former IMF boss. “If it was subjected to cross-examination, the case would collapse immediately.”
In France, prostitution on its own is not illegal unless it causes a public disturbance. However, procuring for sex is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Text messages on forthcoming soirées
Central to the case against him is a series of SMS messages sent from Strauss-Kahn’s phone, in which he mentions forthcoming soirées and the women involved. A source close to the investigation told Reuters that these messages could be interpreted as complicity with illegal procurement of prostitutes.
"There's no serious evidence to suggest that Dominique Strauss-Kahn knew that these women were paid," said Leclerc. “And even if he knew, all that can be proved is that it was nothing other than normal relations with prostitutes. There is no help, assistance of protection of prostitution, just normal activity between a prostitute and her client. There is no crime.”
The lawyer has only maintained that “certainly, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has attended a certain number of parties with women, libertine parties with female friends and women who were friends of his friends."
'A crime of lust'
“You can say what you like about that on the moral level, but that doesn't change the fact that it's not against the criminal law. He is being reproached for a kind of crime of lust. He's being attacked over his libertine behaviour,” Leclerc added.
After months of court hearings, investigating judges placed Strauss-Kahn under formal investigation on Monday. This means, among other things, that he is no longer allowed to speak to the press.
Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers said they would appeal the court’s conditions, which include 100,000 euros bail, and seek to have the investigation thrown out completely.
Asked what Strauss-Kahn -- known as DSK in France -- risks from the investigation in the long run, Leclerc replied: “They will drop the charges or they will acquit him. I have rarely been so certain of the outcome of a case."