The return of DSK

A year since his stay at the Sofitel New York, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is re-emerging in public. So what does he have to say?

John Lichfield
Saturday 13 October 2012 00:08

Listen to me … but leave me alone. Dominique Strauss-Kahn says he is no longer a politician. He remains, nonetheless, a master of creative ambiguity or, if you prefer, hypocrisy. In a pair of interviews this week the disgraced former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) transmitted two apparently conflicting messages in an attempt to build a new life as a respected former statesman rather than an international pariah.

His first message was, in effect: "I am guilty of nothing but an exaggerated sex-drive and political misjudgement. It is time for the media, and the world, to forget me."

His second message was: "I remain a brilliant mind with much to offer a world, and especially a European Union, which has been floundering in my absence. It is time for the world to listen to me once again."

Mr Strauss-Kahn's timing is interesting. It is just over a year since he gave his last big media interview following the collapse of charges that he attempted to rape a chamber-maid in the New York Sofitel in May last year. It is just one week since a French prosecutor abandoned an accusation that he raped a Belgian call-girl in a Washington hotel in 2010.

The former French finance minister – the man who might well have been President of the Republic instead of François Hollande – still faces other accusations of sexual misbehaviour. The civil case brought by the Sofitel chambermaid, Nafissatou Diallo, rumbles on. A French court will decide next month whether or not to quash, or confirm, a formal accusation that Mr Strauss-Kahn acted as an unpaid "pimp" by helping friends to organise sex parties with prostitutes in Washington, Paris and Brussels.

In these circumstances, the rehabilitation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn might appear a little premature. On the other hand, it could be said to be already under way.

DSK, as he is widely known, has been invited in recent weeks to address high-profile conferences in Yalta, Athens and, in the past few days, Seoul. He has criticised the ponderous efforts to rescue the eurozone. In these meetings, and in one of his interviews, he has proposed his own innovative solution.

Mr Strauss-Kahn wants those euro countries which currently enjoy historically low interest rates on state debt, notably Germany and France, to plough their "windfall" into subsidising the unsustainable market rates demanded of Spain and Italy. This is a clever variant of the eurobonds or common EU debt idea opposed by Berlin. The proposal may never fly, but it reminds the world that the man who appeared on TV in chains last year has a creative political mind as well as – to say the very least – a hugely inflated libido.

In his interviews this week with the French news magazine Le Point and the newspaper Le Figaro, Mr Strauss-Kahn, 63, made it clear that he felt he still had a great deal to offer. To Le Figaro he said: "When I think something is correct, I will say so. And I will carry on doing it."

He told Le Point: "I imagine the possibility of devoting myself to great international projects … which could change the lives of people in parts of the world which need help."

However, the greater part of the Le Point interview was devoted to a more self-serving message. DSK complained that he was still the victim of constant media harassment, including permanent surveillance by paparazzi which amounted, he said, to a "man-hunt". "I have no more public duties," he said. "I have never been found guilty [of an offence] in this country or in any other … It is time to leave me alone!"

Mr Strauss-Kahn and his third wife, the journalist and heiress Anne Sinclair, who supported him financially and morally throughout the Sofitel allegations, officially broke up this summer. According to several French gossip magazines, DSK already has a new woman in his life, a 40-something TV executive. Both DSK and the woman are suing the magazines which pictured them together.

Mr Strauss-Kahn dismissed the "pimping" accusations that he faces as "artificial and absurd". He said he did not know that the women were prostitutes (despite describing them in a text message as "materiél" or "commodities"). DSK said that all violence, sexual or otherwise, was "odious" to him. (A French criminal investigation found last year that there was clear evidence that he sexually assaulted the journalist Tristane Banon in 2003 but that the events were too old to allow a prosecution.)

Mr Strauss-Kahn declined, once again, to give his version of what happened in the New York Sofitel until Ms Diallo's civil action was finished. He went on to apologise for "disappointing" his political supporters in France but then, in effect, withdrew the stronger apology that he gave in a live French TV interview in September last year.

At that time, DSK said his behaviour in the Sofitel had been a "moral failing". This week, he said: "The important thing is that what happened in that room broke no law. The rest is no one else's business."

His only mistake, he said, was "naivety". He had believed he could lead a libertine private life – "including free behaviour between consenting adults" – without any "impact on the exercise of my responsibilities".

"There are numerous soirées in Paris for that kind of thing. You would be surprised who you meet there," he said. "But what's permissible for a business leader, a sportsman or an artist is not so for a politician… I was out of step with French society on this point. I was wrong."

In other words DSK now believes – or would like the world to believe – that his behaviour was a political mistake, not a "moral" one. What is not clear is how libertine soirées in Paris justify his disputed four-minute encounter with a chambermaid in a Manhattan hotel.

Jamil Dakhlia, a media professor at the Sorbonne university in Paris, said: "The interview is full of contradictions. He says that he is no longer a politician and not a 'celeb' but makes it clear he wants to return to public responsibilities."

Mr Dakhlia said DSK was already getting plenty of high-profile invitations to private conferences but he was still ostracised by foreign, and French, politicians. The interview, he said, was the start of a campaign to prise open the doors of foreign ministries and chancelleries to secure another international post.

Could the campaign succeed? The "pimping" case against DSK is based on a technicality. The Nafissatou Diallo civil action is likely, eventually, to be settled out of court.

On the other hand, DSK cannot hope to win a senior European or international post without the support of the French government. François Hollande may owe his job to Mr Strauss-Kahn's implosion but he has no personal, or political, reason to aid his rehabilitation.

One wife, two accusers

Anne Sinclair

Mr Strauss-Kahn's wife, a journalist and heiress, stood by her husband immediately after the scandal in New York, but the couple are believed to have separated earlier this year. Ms Sinclair, 64, married the former IMF head, her second husband, in 1991. She is his third wife.

Tristane Banon

She is the journalist daughter of a Socialist politician, and god-daughter to Mr Strauss-Kahn's second wife. In 2007, she alleged that Mr Strauss-Kahn had sexually assaulted her five years before. Mr Strauss-Kahn admits kissing Ms Banon. now 33, but denies sexual assault.

Nafissatou Diallo

The New York hotel maid, who was born in Guinea, West Africa, claimed she was assaulted by Mr Strauss-Kahn in his room last year. Mr Strauss-Kahn insisted the sex was consensual and that Ms Diallo, 32, was only after his money. The criminal case was dropped, but she is pursuing a civil lawsuit against him.

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