New York v. Strauss-Kahn

New York v. Strauss-Kahn

New York v. Strauss-Kahn was a criminal case relating to allegations of sexual assault and attempted rape made by a hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo, against Dominique Strauss-Kahn[1][2] at the Sofitel New York Hotel on May 14, 2011. The charges were dismissed at the request of the prosecution which pointed out serious doubts in Diallo's credibility and inconclusive physical evidence.[3][4][5] In a TV interview in September, Strauss-Kahn admitted that his sexual encounter with the maid was “a moral fault” and described it as “inappropriate” but that it “did not involve violence, constraint or aggression”.[6]

At the time of the alleged attack, Strauss-Kahn was the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and considered to be a leading candidate for the 2012 French Presidency. Four days after his arrest, he resigned his post at the IMF.

On May 19, 2011, Strauss-Kahn was indicted by a grand jury and after posting $1 million bail[7] and pleading not guilty he was placed under house arrest.[8] On July 1, prosecutors told the judge that they had reassessed the strength of their case in the light of the housekeeper's diminished credibility, and the case against him was near collapse.[9][10] On August 23, 2011, the judge formally dismissed all charges based on the prosecutors' assertions, including that the maid's "pattern of lies" had "made it impossible to trust her."[11]



Arrest and indictment

On May 14, 2011, Strauss-Kahn was arrested and charged with the sexual assault and attempted rape of 32-year-old Nafissatou Diallo, a housekeeper at the Sofitel New York Hotel in the Manhattan borough earlier that day. After calling the hotel and asking them to bring his missing cell phone to the airport, he was met by police and taken from his Paris-bound flight at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport minutes before takeoff and was later charged on several counts of sexual assault plus unlawful imprisonment. Strauss-Kahn was accused of four felony charges—two of criminal sexual acts (forcing the housekeeper to perform oral sex on him), one of attempted rape and one of sexual abuse—plus three misdemeanor offences, including unlawful imprisonment.[12][13] The U.S. State Department determined that Strauss Kahn's diplomatic immunity does not apply to this case.[14]

Strauss-Kahn appeared in court on May 16. During the proceedings the prosecution stated that the housekeeper, Diallo, an immigrant asylee from the West African state of Guinea,[15] had provided a detailed account of the alleged assault, had picked Strauss-Kahn out of a lineup, and that DNA evidence recovered at the site was being tested.[16] Strauss-Kahn, who had earlier agreed to a forensic examination, pleaded not guilty.[17][18] The judge detained him without bail pending the grand jury investigation.[18]

On May 24, it was reported that the DNA tests of the semen found on Diallo's shirt had shown a match with the DNA sample from Strauss-Kahn.[15]

Strauss-Kahn hired New York lawyer Benjamin Brafman to represent him.[19] He was reported as having sought public relations advice from a Washington-based consulting firm.[20] His defense team hired a private detective agency to investigate the housekeeper's past.[21]

The housekeeper is represented by Kenneth Thompson and Douglas Wigdor of Thompson Wigdor LLP, a two-partner law firm whose areas of expertise include employment law and civil rights cases.[22][23] Thompson hired a Paris lawyer to look for women in France who may have been victimized by Strauss-Kahn.[24]

On May 19, Strauss-Kahn was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury on seven criminal counts, two of which are first-degree criminal sexual acts, each of which is punishable by a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.[25][26] Bail was set at $1 million with 24-hour home detention and an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet.[27][28] After Strauss-Kahn turned over his passport and posted an additional $5 million bail bond,[8] he was placed under house arrest in a residence[29] in Lower Manhattan.[30]

Strauss-Kahn was arraigned on June 6 and pleaded not guilty.[31] Outside the court, lawyers for the parties made statements. Benjamin Brafman, for Strauss-Kahn, said: "In our judgment, once the evidence has been reviewed, it will be clear that there was no element of forcible compulsion in this case whatsoever. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply not credible."[32][33]

Prosecution disclosures

On June 30, 2011, the district attorney sent a letter to Strauss-Kahn's defense team disclosing information about the housekeeper.[34] Prosecutors met with Strauss-Kahn's defense team the same day.[9] That evening The New York Times reported the case as being on the verge of collapse and quoted law-enforcement officials as saying investigators had uncovered major holes in the housekeeper's credibility.[9] She admitted she lied about the events immediately following her encounter with Strauss-Kahn.[10][35] She had initially said that after the alleged assault she waited in a hallway until Strauss-Kahn had left. She later said she cleaned an adjacent room, and then returned to Strauss-Kahn's room to clean there before reporting to her supervisor that she had been attacked.[35] She now says that after the assault she only visited another room briefly to pick up some personal effects.[1] Among the discoveries were statements by Diallo to investigators differing from what she had put in her asylum application, her claiming to have only one phone while paying hundreds of dollars a month to five phone companies, and individuals, including known felons, depositing almost $100,000 into her bank account over the previous two years.[9]

Also, Diallo told a compelling and detailed story of being gang raped by soldiers in Guinea—that was completely fabricated. Over a two week period she told the story to prosecutors twice. Both times with great emotion, precision, and conviction, including: tears; halting speech; the number and nature of her attackers; pointing out scars that were supposedly from the attack; and how her 2-year old daughter was present. When she finally admitted that the story was fabricated, she at first said that she made up the attack to be consistent with her asylum application. But that too turned out to be untrue—as her asylum application makes no mention of any gang rape.[36][37][38]

In addition, the prosecution learned that, the day following the alleged assault, the housekeeper had made a phone call in her native Fula language to her boyfriend in an immigration detention center.[39][40] The New York Times quoted a law enforcement official as saying that a translation of the call revealed she had used words to the effect of "Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing." Prosecutors claimed that the conversation, one of at least three they recorded, raised "very troubling" questions about the credibility of the accuser "because she discussed the possible benefits of pursuing charges against a wealthy man."[41][10] According to the Times, the translation of the call "alarmed prosecutors" as being another in a "series of troubling statements."[39] However doubts have been expressed about the accuracy of this translation by the accuser's attorney.[1][42]

Thompson, the accuser's attorney, challenged the prosecutors' handling and interpretation of the phone call and asked them to withdraw and appoint a special prosecutor.[41] The prosecutors declined to recuse their office, claiming Thompson's request was without merit.[43][44]

Subsequent events

The morning after the prosecution's disclosures, in a brief court hearing in which prosecutors said they had reassessed the strength of their case, Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest on his own recognizance without bail.[9][45] His passport remained surrendered though he was free to travel within the US.[46][47] After the hearing, Kenneth Thompson, the housekeeper's attorney, defended his client: "It’s a fact that the victim here has made some mistakes, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a rape victim."[39]

The next scheduled hearing was postponed twice, from July 18 to August 1, and then again to August 23, with the prosecutors saying that they need more time for further investigation and defense saying they hoped it would lead to a dismissal of charges.[48][49]

On August 8, 2011, Diallo filed a civil action against Strauss-Kahn in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Bronx.[50][51]

On August 22, 2011, at 3.20 pm of Monday, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, prosecutors in the office of Cyrus R. Vance Jr, the district attorney of the County of New York, filed a recommendation for dismissal of all charges against Strauss-Kahn.[52][53] Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon stated to the court that inconsistencies in the complainant's testimony led to the decision to recommend all charges be dropped.[4] In a document[5] to support its decision, the prosecution stated that the physical evidence indicated a sexual encounter but did not prove use of force or non-consent, and therefore any proof of Strauss-Kahn's culpability would rely critically on the maid's testimony.[3] The 25-page recommendation for dismissal referred to multiple instances of Diallo's untruthfulness: for example, having claimed initially to prosecutors that she had stated on her asylum application that she had been gang raped in her native Guinea in order to support her asylum request, although her asylum application contained no mention of any such event; and having twice changed her version of the aftermath of the alleged assault. Consequently, prosecutors stated in the recommendation for dismissal that because they could no longer believe Diallo beyond a reasonable doubt, they could not expect any jury to do so either.[54][3][55] At about the same time as the recommendation for dismissal was filed, Diallo's lead attorney, Kenneth Thompson, publicly attacked DA Vance, claiming that Vance's office had been abusive to their client, had leaked false information, and sought to undermine Diallo's credibility. Thompson called for the DA to be replaced with a special prosecutor, and asked the judge for a stay in the case until this motion had been decided.[56][57] The District Attorney held a press conference in New York City regarding the dismissal of charges, but was interrupted by the 2011 Virginia earthquake while giving a speech about reasonable doubt.[58][59]

On the morning of Tuesday, August 23, 2011, Judge Obus accepted the District Attorney's recommendation for dismissal and therefore dismissed all charges against Strauss-Kahn. Obus stayed the application of the dismissal, however, until an appeals court had heard the appeal of a request by the maid's attorney to appoint a special prosecutor which Obus had declined. The same day, in the afternoon of Tuesday August 23, 2011, that appeal was dismissed.[60]

Strauss-Kahn returned to Paris on September 3, 2011.[61] On September 9, 2011, the initial appearance by attorneys in the civil suit filed by Diallo against Strauss-Kahn before Bronx County Supreme Court Justice Doug McKeon took place.[62][63] On September 28, Strauss-Kahn filed a motion for dismissal of the civil suit. His lawyers claimed that Strauss-Kahn's position as head of the IMF granted him "absolute" diplomatic immunity. According to the New York Daily News, under the IMF's Articles of Agreement, employees are granted a limited form of diplomatic immunity called "acts immunity" which only covers work-related actions.[64]

On September 18, 2011, Strauss-Kahn agreed to be interviewed by a major French television channel. He denied any criminal acts but conceded that there had been a sexual encounter in New York, that it was an error and a moral failure. He admitted that that error made it impossible for him to be a candidate for the French presidential elections. Strauss-Kahn stated that his accuser had lied and referred repeatedly to the brief that the prosecutor had filed to request that all charges be dismissed. Some commentators stated that the interview should not have been conducted by Claire Chazal, a close friend of Strauss-Kahn's wife, and stated that Strauss-Kahn had not been pushed very hard during the interview.[65]

Support and opposition

Strauss-Kahn's wife, Anne Sinclair was in Paris when he was arrested. A week after the arrest, on May 21, 2011, she said: "I don’t believe for a single second the accusations of sexual assault by my husband."[66] Friends of the couple said their 20 year old marriage remained strong despite the new strains and that the allegations were unlikely to separate them.[67]

While considered a womanizer and described by Le Journal du Dimanche as un grand séducteur ("a great seducer"),[68] a number of close friends nevertheless said the allegations were out of character.[69][70] His previous wife, Brigitte Guillemette, insisted that violence was not part of his temperament and that the allegations were "unthinkable and impossible."[71][72] The Spanish writer Carmen Llera, a former lover, defended him in an open letter, declaring that " ...violence is not part of his culture."[73] This conclusion is supported by Strauss-Kahn's biographer who claims that he was a "typical French lover, but he's not able to rape a woman."[74]

Journalist and essayist Jean-François Kahn apologised for initially characterizing the allegations as a troussage de domestique (literally, stripping or having casual, forced sex with a servant) and retired from journalism.[75][76] Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, said “I am utterly unsurprised...everyone in the Paris political village knew of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s pathologic relations with women”,[77] and criticised both the ruling UMP and Socialist parties for ignoring his flaws.[78] Bernard Debré, a UMP member of the National Assembly of France, described Strauss-Kahn's behaviour as a humiliation for France.[79][80]

Conspiracy speculation

In an interview with Libération on April 28, 2011, Strauss-Kahn stated he was "worried his political opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy, would try to frame him with a fake rape".[81][82] Paris politician and advocate of gender equality Michèle Sabban said she was convinced there was an international plot to frame him.[83][84]

On May 15, Strauss-Kahn's political opponent Henri de Raincourt, a minister for overseas co-operation in the ruling UMP party, stated, "one cannot exclude thinking about a setup."[85][86]

A poll found that a few days after his arrest some 57% of the French public believed he was the "victim of a smear campaign".[87][88] Le Monde commented that the poll was a violation of the 2000 law Guigou which "requires that no such polls be taken about someone protected by the presumption of innocence", calling the conspiracy theories a sign of a "democracy in regression".[89][90]

Two weeks after the arrest, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin expressed his personal doubts about the allegations.[91] Putin said: "It's hard for me to evaluate the hidden political motives but I cannot believe that it looks the way it was initially introduced. It doesn't sit right in my head."[92][93] When asked in September 2011 if he agreed with the conspiracy theorists, Strauss-Kahn waved the prosecutor's report and said, "We will see, we will see."[94]


French politicians were quick to respond, as were their European counterparts.[95][96] The case prompted response from feminists in both the US and France, who criticised French coverage of the allegations and apparent dismissal of the woman's claims. The reaction led to a rally at the Pompidou Centre on May 22, 2011.[97] French sociologist Irène Théry published two articles in Le Monde commenting on the affair and defending French feminism against American attacks.[98][99][100][101]

In response to the allegations Unite Here, the biggest union in the hospitality industry, said that hotels should provide sexual harassment training for workers. When Strauss-Kahn appeared in court on June 6, a group of room attendants, members of the New York Hotel Trades Council (NYHTC), arrived on a bus arranged by the union and demonstrated in front of the courtroom.[102][103]

Media coverage

Media circus in front of Strauss-Kahn's apartment

CBS News noted that a media circus had begun because the case involved three elements of viewer interest: sex, politics, and money.[104] The media impact of the case after the arrest was measured by the French media analysis firm Kantar Media. They found that during the first ten days of the scandal, 'DSK' appeared on the front page of more than 150,000 newspapers around the world.[105][106]

On May 17, 2011, Paris Match published the name of the housekeeper.[107] Other French newspapers quickly followed suit in naming her, eventually adding photos and details of her private life.[108][109] On June 14, The New York Times followed the lead begun by other anglophone media in running an "unusually extensive" story on the housekeeper's background, while continuing to withhold her name.[110] In the United States, the media does not normally identify by name persons making an accusation of rape, although nothing legally prohibits them from doing so.[111]

A white-haired man in a black overcoat and dress shirt with his hands behind his back at the center of a small group of men walking toward the camera. The two men on either side are wearing jackets with gold badges clipped to the lapels and ties. They are holding the arms of the man in the center. A fourth man, also in a jacket and tie, is visible in the rear.
Images of Strauss-Kahn's perp walk were condemned in France, where it is illegal to publish such photos before the subject is convicted.

Former French justice minister Élisabeth Guigou, architect of the 2000 law Guigou on the presumption of innocence, said she found the televised images of Strauss-Kahn prior to the preliminary bail proceedings as absolutely disgusting and described the coverage as a pre-trial indictment.[112] Jack Lang, a former Minister of Culture and Minister of Education, described the published images of Strauss-Kahn as a lynching and wondered why Strauss-Kahn had not been granted bail at his first application since, according to Lang, the case was not that serious. He later apologised.[97][85]

Hugh Schofield of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported that Strauss-Kahn's arrest and incarceration had provoked a national trauma in France far deeper than anyone could have imagined: images of Strauss-Kahn's post-arrest perp walk had "reawakened an anti-Americanism that is latent in many French souls. ... such humiliating pictures would never be taken in France – indeed the French law on the presumption of innocence bans 'degrading photographs of prisoners awaiting trial.'"[113][114] Bernard-Henri Lévy, the French philosopher and media intellectual, declared that Strauss-Kahn had already been found guilty in the court of public opinion.[115]

Following his release from house arrest on July 1, The New York Times, amongst other media, speculated as to whether he could revive his political career.[116][117] In France, Michèle Sabban asked that the ongoing French Socialist Party presidential primary be suspended to discuss the possibility of Strauss-Kahn's participation.[118][119]

Resignation and impact


Strauss-Kahn resigned from his position as head of the IMF on May 18, 2011. In his letter of resignation he denied "with the greatest possible firmness all of the allegations". He said he wanted to protect the IMF and devote all his energies to proving his innocence.[120] On June 14, the IMF announced two candidates had been shortlisted for the post of managing director of the IMF. These were Agustin Carstens, governor of the Mexican central bank, and Christine Lagarde, French finance minister.[121] On June 28, the IMF announced they had selected Lagarde.[122]


Though he had not officially declared his candidacy, Strauss-Kahn had been expected to be a leading candidate for the 2012 French Presidency for the Socialist Party.[123][124] Preliminary polling suggested he was favored to defeat the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy,[125] but his arrest left the party unsure how to proceed.[126] On June 28, party leader Martine Aubry announced her candidacy for the presidency, joining François Hollande and Ségolène Royal amongst party contenders.[127] Strauss-Kahn endorsed Aubry's candidacy. François Hollande was elected the Socialist Party presidential candidate on 16 October 2011[128].


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