Suggestions the French ruling party may have been involved in a plot to disgrace former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn were dismissed as " fantasy" yesterday by one of President Nicolas Sarkozy's closest allies.
The French Interior Minister, Claude Guéant, said that an article in The New York Review of Books amounted to "guesswork and rumours".
In the article, journalist Edward Jay Epstein raises a number of disturbing questions about events before and just after Mr Strauss-Kahn's arrest in New York in May for the alleged attempted rape of a chambermaid in the Manhattan Sofitel. At the time, Mr Strauss-Kahn, 62, a former Socialist finance minister, was the front-runner to win France's presidential election next year. The scandal forced him to resign his position as head of the IMF and drop out of the race.
The article is based, in part, on tapes from security cameras at the Sofitel. He says they show two security officials at the hotel slapping hands and going into a "strange dance of joy" soon after chambermaid Nafissatou Diallo reported the alleged assault.
In a statement yesterday, the French-owned Accor Group, which owns the hotel, said the alleged "dance" and had nothing to do with Mr Strauss-Kahn. The group also rejected claims that Ms Diallo may have had an "accomplice" in the nearby suite she visited several times on 14 May, the day of the incident. Accor said that suite was occupied by a guest who had checked out 30 minutes before the alleged assault. Charges of attempted rape against Mr Strauss-Kahn were dropped in September, but Ms Diallo is pursuing civil action. In a television appearance, Mr Strauss-Kahn admitted committing a "moral fault" in a brief consensual sexual encounter with Ms Diallo. He also said he might have been the victim of a "trap" or "plot".
Epstein's other allegation is that emails sent by Mr Strauss-Kahn on his BlackBerry in the days before the incident were read by officials at Mr Sarkozy's party headquarters. The BlackBerry went missing on the day of the alleged assault.
The New York Review of Books says the missing phone was disabled 20 minutes after Mr Strauss-Kahn left the hotel – something that could only have been achieved by an expert. Epstein says Mr Strauss-Kahn had been warned by a friend at the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire that Mr Sarkozy's party was hacking into his messages. However, Jean-François Copé, leader of the UMP, yesterday said it had never tried to spy on or trap the former presidential front-runner.