/ 7 July 2011

Strauss-Kahn accuser seeks new prosecutor

The case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been thrown into further disarray as an all-out war has erupted between the district attorney’s office and the former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief’s accuser.

Lawyers for the maid who says Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her in a Manhattan hotel room demanded a new prosecutor on Wednesday, accusing the New York district attorney’s office of damaging leaks and a potential conflict of interest.

A spokesperson for District Attorney Cyrus Vance hit back in a statement emailed to Agence France-Presse, calling the recusal request “wholly without merit”.

The war between the alleged victim and those supposedly pursuing the case against Strauss-Kahn came days after the prosecution admitted in a dramatic court hearing that it had grave doubts about her credibility.

They said she had given false information on tax and asylum application forms, including about an alleged gang rape in Guinea. Perhaps even more damaging, she had lied in sworn testimony about the Strauss-Kahn case.

The maid initially told the grand jury, which decided back in May that the case could proceed, that she had left Strauss-Kahn’s room after the alleged May 14 sexual assault and waited in a hallway until he had gone.

Prosecutors revealed on Friday that she later recanted that version of events, saying she went on to clean another room and returned to Strauss-Kahn’s room to clean it before telling a supervisor about the alleged incident.

‘Potential conflict of interest’
In the latest twist to the stunning case, the maid’s lawyer Kenneth Thompson sent a letter on Wednesday to Vance requesting he immediately recuse himself from the case and allow the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Most of Thompson’s four-page letter detailed alleged leaks from Vance’s office, in particular regarding a New York Times story about a conversation the maid had with a jailed felon that was being secretly recorded.

He wrote that chief assistant district attorney Daniel Alonso called him on June 30 and stated that during the conversation the maid had said “words to the effect” that “this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing”.

The New York Times then reported the details of the maid’s phone conversation the following day using almost exactly the same words Alonso had used, he said.

Among “several other orchestrated leaks and false accounts”, Thompson said he was truly saddened that a “senior prosecutor” had refused to deny a New York Post tabloid story accusing the maid of being a prostitute.

“The fact that apparently a prosecutor in your office suggested that it might be true that the victim is a prostitute and had engaged in acts of prostitution while under the protection of your office is appalling.”

Thompson also mentioned a “potential conflict of interest” because the head of the prosecutor’s trial division is married to one of Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers involved in the case.

“We should have been told about this matter by members of your office and not by members of the press,” he wrote.

A ‘constructive’ meeting
Thompson also complained that one of the prosecutors had “screamed at and disrespected the victim” and yet was still assigned to the case.

Thompson had already said after Friday’s hearing that he felt the prosecution was laying the groundwork to dismiss the case and accused Vance of not having the courage to go through with it.

Lawyers for both the defence and the prosecution held a meeting on Wednesday at Vance’s office but gave no clue afterwards as to whether the case was headed for dismissal, a possible plea deal, or still to trial.

“We had a constructive meeting. That’s all I’m going to say,” Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer Benjamin Brafman said.

A spokesperson from Vance’s office said only: “The investigation is continuing.”

Another allegation of rape
Strauss-Kahn has enjoyed more freedom since being released from house arrest on Friday — out of his ankle monitoring bracelet and without the 24/7 armed guards that had been conditions of his bail agreement.

In a huge turnaround for someone who weeks ago was on suicide watch in New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail, he dined out on truffles with his wife Anne Sinclair that night at an exclusive Manhattan eatery.

Back in France, prosecutors say they have received a complaint from a writer alleging that the former IMF boss and leading politician tried to rape her in 2003.

If the 62-year-old Socialist returns to France he could face a second case should prosecutors take up Tristane Banon’s complaint that he grappled with her and tried to strip her in a Paris apartment during an interview.

Lawyers for Strauss-Kahn have dismissed the allegation and threatened to sue 32-year-old Banon.

Some of Strauss-Kahn’s allies in the French opposition Socialist Party have suggested he could return to fight Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s presidential election.

Before the New York scandal he polled as the person most likely to beat Sarkozy. He is due back in court in New York for another hearing on July 18. — AFP