Presidential hopeful 'knew of sex attack by Strauss-Kahn'

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The Independent Online

The new frontrunner to win the Socialist Party nomination has emerged as a possible witness in the latest allegations of sexual violence against his party's former presidential favourite, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

A French writer who accuses Mr Strauss-Kahn of attempting to rape her eight years ago said in an interview that she had twice discussed the alleged attack at the time with François Hollande, who was the Socialist leader.

Mr Hollande admitted that he knew about Tristane Banon's allegations in 2003 but said he had received "no detailed information" and suggested it was now time – eight years after the alleged attack – to let the matter rest.

French investigators may now ask Mr Hollande – and other people that Ms Banon approached at the time – to substantiate or contradict parts of her story under oath. Ms Banon, 32, a journalist and novelist, was expected to present to the French state prosecution service last night a formal complaint that Mr Strauss-Khan tried to rape her during an interview in a Paris flat in 2003 (not in 2002 as originally reported). Mr Strauss-Khan's lawyers have dismissed her account as "imaginary" and threatened to counter-sue for defamation.

In her first lengthy interview since she came forward publicly in May, Ms Banon told the magazine L'Express that she wanted to "end the eight years of hell that I have been going through".

She said she had not made a legal complaint at the time because she found herself in an impossible situation as a friend of Mr Strauss-Khan's daughter and the god-daughter of his ex-wife. Even her mother, a Socialist Party councillor in Normandy, had advised her to do nothing. The only person who had suggested that she should bring a complaint, she said, was Mr Hollande.

Ms Banon said that Mr Strauss-Kahn had agreed in 2003, when she was 23, to give her an interview for a book. He invited her to a flat in Paris, furnished only with a sofa, a bed, a table and a coffee machine. "He pulled me towards him and we fell on the floor and fought for several minutes," she said. "Is that what you call a chat up, when a man does everything what he wants to your body, grabs you from behind, paws your breasts, rubs himself against you?"

Ms Banon said she believed Mr Strauss-Khan intended to rape her. Finally, she managed to kick him off of her and escape, she said.

Under French law, attempted-rape complaints can be pursued within 15 years of the alleged attack and sexual-assault complaints within three years.

In New York, the maid at the centre of the latest allegations against Mr Strauss-Kahn announced, through her lawyers, that she intends to sue the New York Post over reports that she is a prostitute. The 32-year-old Guinean immigrant accused the Post of publishing defamatory articles between 2 and 4 July "in an apparent desperate attempt to bolster its rapidly plunging sales".