Strauss-Kahn Accuser's Lies Prompt Prosecutors to Dismiss Assault Charges
By Chris Dolmetsch, David McLaughlin and Patricia Hurtado – Aug 23, 2011 9:09 AM ET
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former International Monetary Fund chief accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid, shouldn’t be tried because his accuser told too many lies about the alleged attack, Manhattan prosecutors said.
The housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo, made numerous false statements and gave prosecutors and a grand jury “irreconcilable accounts” about events immediately after the encounter, leaving investigators unable to determine what actually occurred, prosecutors from the office of District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a motion filed yesterday seeking dismissal of the charges.
“If after a careful assessment of the facts, the prosecutor is not convinced that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, he or she must decline to proceed,” assistant district attorneys Joan Illuzzi-Orbon and John McConnell said in the filing. “While an abiding concern for victims of crime is an essential attribute for every prosecutor working in the office, that concern cannot eclipse our obligation to act only on the evidence and the facts.”
Strauss-Kahn, 62, arrested in May after Diallo told police he attacked her when she came to clean his suite at the Sofitel in midtown Manhattan, may now be able to return home to France, where investigators are probing allegations that he tried to rape French writer Tristane Banon eight years ago, a claim he has denied. He will also have to defend a civil suit Diallo filed in New York state court seeking unspecified damages.
“We have maintained from the beginning of this case that our client is innocent,” Strauss-Kahn’s U.S. lawyers, William Taylor III and Benjamin Brafman, said in a statement. “There were many reasons to believe that Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s accuser was not credible. Mr. Strauss-Kahn and his family are grateful that the district attorney’s office took our concerns seriously.”
A status hearing in the criminal case is scheduled for this morning before New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus in Manhattan.
Douglas Wigdor, a lawyer for Diallo, said today that there was a “mountain of physical evidence” to back up her version of events and his client will pursue a civil lawsuit.
There is “no other plausible explanation for what happened in a nine-minute sexual encounter” other than assault, Wigdor said at a Paris press conference. “This will have a chilling effect on all victims” of sexual assault.
Another Diallo attorney, Kenneth Thompson, told Obus in court papers filed yesterday that Vance should be replaced by a special prosecutor in the case.
“Cyrus Vance has denied the right of a woman to get justice in a rape case,” Thompson told reporters yesterday after he and his client met with prosecutors. “He has not only turned his back on this innocent victim, but he has also turned his back on the forensic, medical and other physical evidence in this case.”
Yesterday’s filing is the culmination of a probe of both the accuser and accused that Vance vowed to undertake last month “without fear or favor” after facts emerged that his office said undermined Diallo’s credibility.
French officials and intellectuals had called the handling of the case a rush to judgment, with former Culture Minister Jacques Lang calling Strauss-Kahn’s arrest and charging “a lynching.”
New York defense lawyers took a different view. The initial decision to charge Strauss-Kahn was the correct one, given the evidence available at the time, the nature of the crime and the flight risk presented by Strauss-Kahn, a wealthy foreign national, lawyers including Gerald Shargel said.
“No prosecutor likes to admit making a mistake,” said Gordon Mehler, a former federal prosecutor in Brooklyn who has been a criminal defense lawyer for more than a decade. “But that’s what Cy Vance has to do: Make a tough call and deal with the consequences.”
Prosecutors also have a duty to disclose information that could help exonerate the accused, Mehler said in an interview after Vance’s office moved to drop the charges.
“There’s an enormous inequity in power between a prosecutor and a defendant, even a wealthy one like Dominique Strauss-Kahn,” he said. “It makes sense that the standard for going forward in bringing someone to trial is a belief by the prosecutors that they can establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Strauss-Kahn was a leading contender to run for president of France before his arrest. Other Socialist candidates for his party’s nomination said it was for him to decide whether to return to politics.
“I would like to leave it to him to express his views” his future political role, Martine Aubry, a candidate for the Socialist Party’s presidential nomination, said today on France Info.
Evidence collected by investigators established that Strauss-Kahn engaged in “a hurried sexual encounter” with the maid, “but it does not independently establish her claim of a forcible, nonconsensual encounter,” prosecutors said in yesterday’s filing. DNA from Strauss-Kahn found on Diallo’s pantyhose wasn’t enough to controvert or confirm that the defendant had groped her directly, prosecutors said.
Three Different Accounts
Prosecutors said Diallo gave three different accounts of what happened immediately after the encounter at the Sofitel, and admitted to lying to the grand jury, something defense lawyers could have used against her at a criminal trial. Prosecutors said she told investigators a fictitious tale, “with great emotion and conviction,” about how she was gang- raped by soldiers in her native Guinea.
“In a case where a complainant is accusing a defendant of a sexual assault, the fact that she has given a prior false account of a different sexual assault is highly relevant,” the prosecutors said.
They said Diallo also repeatedly asserted that she wouldn’t try to make money off of the case, only to sue Strauss-Kahn this month. She failed to disclose $60,000 in cash deposits made into her checking account by individuals in four different states, and she lied about her job to obtain low-income housing, prosecutors said.
“If we do not believe her beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot ask a jury to do so,” prosecutors said.
The criminal case is People v. Strauss-Kahn, 11-02526, New York State Supreme Court (New York County); the civil case is Diallo v. Strauss-Kahn, 11-307065, New York State Supreme Court (Bronx County).
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