All criminal charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn were dropped in a New York court on Tuesday, handing a victory to the former International Monetary Fund chief and opening the door for his possible return to French politics.
The ruling by Judge Michael Obus came after Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan district attorney, recommended that the charges be dismissed because of concerns about the credibility of Mr Strauss-Kahn’s accuser, Nafissatou Diallo.
“After a careful and deliberative review of all the evidence, this team followed the facts where they led, and had to make a decision. I believe the decision we made is absolutely the right one, legally and ethically,” said Mr Vance. “As prosecutors, we don’t work in a world where we expect or require perfect witnesses …If we are convinced they are truthful about the crimes committed against them, and will tell the truth at trial, we will ask a jury to consider their testimony to prove a crime. If we are not convinced, we cannot, should not and do not take the case to a jury.”
Mr Strauss-Kahn was flanked by his lawyers and his wife looked on as the judge spoke. He said in a statement that the ordeal had been a “nightmare”.
“We are obviously gratified that the district attorney agreed with my lawyers that this case had to be dismissed,” he said. He is likely to have his passport returned tomorrow.
Ms Diallo’s attorney Ken Thompson said Mr Strauss-Kahn had received preferential treatment throughout the case. “District attorney Vance has abandoned an innocent woman and denied an innocent woman the right to get justice in a rape case …Do you really believe she agreed to engage in a consensual sexual act with a man she never met before?”
In a press conference with another of Ms Diallo’s attorneys in Paris on Tuesday, Thibault de Montbrial, a well-known French lawyer, said he lodged a complaint on Monday on behalf of Ms Diallo over allegations that an unspecified person in the Paris suburb where Mr Strauss-Kahn was formerly mayor, and still enjoys much political support, attempted to bribe a potential witness in her case.
Mr Strauss-Kahn was arrested on May 15 on allegations he attacked Ms Diallo, a chambermaid at the Manhattan Sofitel, where he was a guest. Amid a whirlwind of global media attention, he resigned his IMF post within days of his arrest. Initially held at Rikers Island, he was later detained under house arrest in Manhattan before being released last month.
Before the incident, Mr Strauss-Kahn was seen as a strong Socialist contender to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy for the French presidency next year. The news was welcomed by Martine Aubry, party leader and a candidate for the Socialist nomination. “It is an immense relief,” she said.
However, like François Hollande, a leading Socialist politician who is the favourite to win the nomination, she has emphasised that it was up to Mr Strauss-Kahn to decide what to do next.
Mr Hollande said of his fellow Socialist on Monday that the path to France’s presidency could still be open for him if he wished to pursue it.
With criminal charges dismissed, it is likely that a civil suit filed against Mr Strauss-Kahn will proceed. The accuser’s attorney said before the hearing that Ms Diallo would “aggressively litigate the civil case against Mr Strauss-Kahn” should the criminal case against him be dropped.
Earlier on Tuesday, the judge presiding over Mr Strauss-Kahn’s case in New York dismissed a request by the accuser’s lawyers to appoint a special prosecutor for the case. Judge Obus said: “After considering the allegations in the complainant’s application …the court concludes that nothing called to its attention establishes disqualification or warrants removal of the elected district attorney of this county.” Ms Diallo’s attorneys sought “an emergency appeal” against the decision, but the request was denied by the appeals court on Tuesday afternoon.
Prosecutors initially hailed Ms Diallo as a truthful witness, and her testimony was vital in persuading a grand jury to indict Mr Strauss-Kahn on seven charges, including two counts of sexual assault. However, the case began to unravel over concerns about the complainant’s credibility.
In July, reports emerged that Ms Diallo had offered multiple versions of what had happened in the period immediately after the alleged attack, which prosecutors said “impairs her reliability as a witness”.
There were also questions about the circumstances surrounding her application for asylum, which she alleged was prompted by a gang rape in Guinea. She later acknowledged she had “entirely fabricated this attack”.
Prosecutors noted in court documents that her emotional retelling of the incident in Guinea, which included dropping to the floor and rolling around while weeping, was “identical to the manner in which she recounted the encounter with the defendant”. This was “highly significant” to the decision to dismiss, they said.
The fact that Ms Diallo lied in the past would not necessarily discount her as a witness, prosecutors said, “but the nature and number of the complainant’s falsehoods leave us unable to credit her version of events beyond a reasonable doubt …If we do not believe her beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot ask a jury to do so.”
The prosecutor’s office declined to comment on Monday on whether charges may be brought against her.
In France, prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation in July into claims made by Tristane Banon, a writer, that Mr Strauss-Kahn assaulted her in 2003. Mr Strauss-Kahn has denied these charges, and his lawyers have said they will be filing a defamation suit against Ms Banon.
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