Strauss-Kahn: A French family saga that could end up in the US courts

Latest twist in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair will also impact next year's presidential elections
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Imagine a French daytime TV soap opera which might be entitled, say, "Sex, Lies and Power". New viewers start here ...

Tristane is accusing her godmother's ex-husband of attempting to rape her. The accused man, Dominique, a former French finance minister, former head of the IMF and one-time French presidential frontrunner, is counter-suing Tristane. He accuses her of being a fragile, self-publicising fantasist.

Tristane's mother, Anne, is a former fashion executive and local politician with whom Tristane has always had a distant, troubled relationship. Maman, 65, backs up her daughter's story. But Maman has also admitted to police that she once had rough sex with Dominique in his office in the OECD in 2000, despite being a close friend of his ex-wife, Brigitte.

Brigitte, a magistrate, denies she is a friend of Anne; she even denies that she is, in any true sense, Tristane's godmother. She is suing Anne for claiming that she once described Dominique as a danger to women.

Meanwhile, the honest and likeable François, a former leader of the Socialist Party and new presidential frontrunner, has been questioned by police who are investigating Tristane's accusations. She says that she spoke to François (among other people) at the time of the alleged attempted rape in 2003, and that he was very supportive and advised her to go to the police.

François says that he knew only vaguely about the allegations against his political colleague, and does not recall talking to Tristane. He, too, is threatening to sue. He accuses dark forces close to his possible future electoral rival, the incumbent president, Nicolas, of manipulating the press, and maybe the police, to drag his name into the affair.

Camille, the daughter of Dominique and Brigitte, has also been questioned by police. Tristane says she told Camille about her father's alleged attack soon after it happened. The two women have not spoken since. Camille's mother says it is absurd to suggest the young women were ever close.

This, roughly speaking, is the Strauss-Kahn Scandal II, as it has unfolded in France in the past three weeks. As if this were not Byzantine enough, it now appears that the action of the French soap opera may soon merge with the better-known American saga, which has been playing on TV screens since May, in which Dominique is accused of attempting to rape an African chambermaid in his Manhattan hotel. (The next episode is in court on 1 August.)

Tristane – Tristane Banon, 32, a tiny, elf-like journalist and novelist – has now agreed in principle to give evidence to the prosecutor in the US case, the district attorney, Cyrus Vance. If French judicial authorities agree, she may travel to New York shortly to repeat what she says happened to her when she attempted to interview DSK alone in a flat in the Left Bank of Paris in February 2003.

Her lawyer, David Koubbi, was in Manhattan earlier this week. It emerged yesterday that he had not only spoken to Mr Vance but had met DSK's US accuser, the Guinean chambermaid, Nafissatou Diallo.

The French DSK saga may well not lead to any legal action. If investigators decide Ms Banon's allegations amount to sexual assault, not attempted rape, they will collapse automatically under France's statute of limitations. Accusations of assault can be heard for up to three years afterwards; 10 years for rape. Ms Banon says she decided not to report the alleged crime on the advice of her mother.

It may take months before a decision is made. The Elysée Palace certainly has no interest in a rapid outcome while the saga overshadows the Socialist primary campaign. In the meantime, according to US legal experts, Ms Banon's testimony could, with some difficulty, be used to prop up the US case against DSK.

The Banon saga has revealed the incestuous contours of life on the upper slopes of French politics and the media. Whatever happens next, "Middle" France, may conclude that this is a world in which almost everyone has slept with everyone else and allegations of serious sexual crimes can go unreported for eight years.

Small wonder that François Hollande and other politicians fear the baleful impact the implausible plot of "Sex, Lies and Power" will have on next year's presidential elections.