Strauss-Kahn could yet be French PM

Speculation is rife in two cities

John Lichfield,David Usborne
Sunday 03 July 2011 00:00

France, scarcely recovered from the earthquake of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest, was struggling to cope yesterday with the tsunami of his possible return to presidential politics. Even if he is rapidly cleared of attempted rape in New York, most media commentators believe it is already too late – and too awkward – for the one-time front-runner to enter the Socialist Party presidential primary in October.

But the mere possibility of Mr Strauss-Kahn's return to France – following the doubts raised about the credibility of his accuser, a Guinean chambermaid, have swamped the "post-DSK" calculations of his centre-left rivals and those of President Nicolas Sarkozy. Will the former favourite try to run, despite everything? Will he support one of the two leading Socialists? Might he yet emerge, if not as President, then as Prime Minister, or finance minister, if another Socialist wins the election, which will be held over two rounds next April and May?

The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr, was yesterday taking stock of the case that threatens to become a colossal embarrassment. It is worth noting that he had not given up on the case on Friday, suggesting he and others think that, despite everything, it may yet be salvageable.

"It's theoretically possible that the case could survive because there's a long history of sex crimes being prosecuted by imperfect complaining witnesses," said Paul Callan, a former prosecutor now in private practice. He and others agreed that the job of the prosecutors had become much more difficult.

There were calls yesterday by Mr Strauss-Kahn's friends and allies for the 15 July deadline for Socialist Party presidential nominations to be extended until the end of August to accommodate him. There were renewed suggestions by some of his friends that the former IMF chief must have been the victim of a political plot or "manipulation" (by persons unclear).

Mainstream French media commentators yesterday wrote off DSK's chances of a rapid political resurrection. They pointed out that, at the very least, he had been shown to be a man of "unbridled sexual appetite" and lamentable judgement in the Sofitel hotel suite in Manhattan on 14 May. Even one of his closest allies, Gérard Collomb, the mayor of Lyon, said that DSK's first task, if cleared, would be to "reconstruct himself". Mr Collomb said: "No one emerges unscathed from an event of this kind."

The centre-left newspaper Libération, said that, whatever the outcome, France could not go back to its old habits of ignoring the relationship between "sexuality and power". In future, investigation of sexual abuses by politicians would be a media "duty" in France, the newspaper said.

A dissenting voice was that of the celebrity philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, who said his friend had been the victim of a media "terror", reminiscent of the darkest days of the French revolution. Mr Levy said that to the media, the accuser was "evidently innocent because she was a poor immigrant. Strauss-Kahn was evidently guilty because he was a powerful man."

In theory, Mr Strauss-Kahn is barred from entering the Socialist primary under the terms of a non-aggression pact agreed last year with the party's leader, Martine Aubry. In the belief that DSK would be unable to run, Ms Aubry joined the race last Tuesday.

Political commentators suggested yesterday that Mr Strauss-Kahn's possible acquittal was good news for Ms Aubry on a personal level but calamitous at a political level. She would now be seen as a "substitute candidate", Le Monde suggested. This would favour her principal rival, the former party leader, François Hollande.

Speculation is therefore turning to the possibility of a kind of "dream-ticket" joint candidature in which Mr Strauss-Kahn would support Ms Aubry. In return, if she becomes France's first female president next year, he would be appointed as her prime minister.

The other great "loser" from a collapse of charges could be President Sarkozy. He had predicted, gleefully, in private that the "affaire DSK" would overshadow the Socialist primary campaign and taint whichever candidate emerges.

Already, DSK and his wife, Anne Sinclair, are savouring their new-found liberty. On Friday evening, the couple headed to a cozy Upper East Side Italian restaurant with friends. He can travel anywhere in the US, but he is still without his passport.

While the DSK defence team had been spending big money on investigating the accuser, it was the prosecutor's office that first found anomalies about her story. Under US law, prosecutors are obliged to share with the defence any evidence they find that may help exculpate the defendant. That was the step prosecutors took on Thursday when they sent a letter to the defence team acknowledging the difficulties they were confronting with the accuser. In it, Mr Vance said that she had admitted that she had lied about being gang raped when she first won asylum in the US in 2004.

The letter also revealed that she had misrepresented what she had done in the first few minutes after the alleged incident with DSK. She told the grand jury that she cowered outside his room afterwards before telling a supervisor what had happened. In fact, she cleaned another room before saying anything.

The prosecution already has DNA evidence clearly indicating that sexual relations did occur. As far as we know, any attempt to persuade a jury that it was non-consensual will rely on testimony from the accuser. That is why all the questions arising are so devastating for Mr Vance and his team. Nothing rules out their finding additional evidence – for example locating a witness who heard her screaming – to resurrect the case.

It is possible that even more damaging information could emerge. There was no word from either the defence or the prosecution yesterday on suggestions in a New York newspaper that she had been earning income not just from cleaning rooms in the Sofitel, where the alleged incident occurred, but also in offering sexual services to guests.

There are also indications of possible criminal activities by the accuser. Not included in the letter from the prosecutors are revelations that the accuser has been heard on tape talking just days after the alleged attack to a West African man now in an Arizona jail on serious drug charges. In the conversation she intimates knowing that she could make money out of the case because of DSK's wealth. Prosecutors also want to know why various individuals have deposited as much as $100,000 in bank accounts in her name and why she appears to have at least five different mobile phone accounts.

A reliable witness? The prosecutor's letter that shook New York

"In an application for asylum, the complainant claimed she and her husband had been persecuted and harassed by the dictatorial regime in Guinea, that the home she shared with her husband was destroyed by police and soldiers and she and her husband were beaten by them. When her husband attempted to return the next day, she stated that he was again beaten, arrested and imprisoned. She stated that she was beaten when she attempted to come to her husband's aid. During her husband's incarceration, he was tortured, deprived of medical treatment, and eventually died as a result of his maltreatment.

"In interviews, the complainant admitted that the above factual information was false. Additionally, in two separate interviews, the complainant stated she had been the victim of a gang rape in the past in her native country. In subsequent interviews, she admitted that this had never occurred.

"Additionally, the complainant has stated that for the past two tax years, she declared a friend's child in addition to her own as a dependant. She also admitted to misrepresenting her income to maintain her present housing. Finally, the complainant was untruthful about a variety of additional topics concerning her history, background, present circumstances and personal relationships."

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