x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Dominique Strauss-Kahn was 'victim of hotel plot'

Edward Epstein, a US journalist, identifies flaws in evidence, claiming the former IMF head mired in sex allegations was target of political conspiracy.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn has demanded investigators of an alleged prostitution ring interview him. The ex-IMF head has also announced he will take action against a senior adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn has demanded investigators of an alleged prostitution ring interview him. The ex-IMF head has also announced he will take action against a senior adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The murky saga of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and room 2806 at the Sofitel hotel in New York has been muddied further by new claims that he was the victim of a plot to discredit him.

Until he was accused of sex crimes involving a chambermaid, Mr Strauss-Kahn was considered the French socialists' best hope of regaining presidential power in next year's elections.

Although the criminal case collapsed when the supposed victim's credibility was undermined, he had by then been obliged to resign as the head of the International Monetary Fund and abandon his presidential ambitions. The latest doubts about the sexual-assault case surfaced following the publication of an article by the US journalist Edward Epstein in The New York Review of Books.

Epstein, renowned for past work on the assassination of President John F Kennedy, identifies what he sees as numerous flaws in the evidence that placed DSK, as he is widely known, under suspicion of having committed serious offences.

As well as describing significant discrepancies concerning the movements of hotel staff, he points to a missing smartphone belonging to Mr Strauss-Kahn, which he says may have contained warnings to him that he was being set up. Epstein also gained access to a security video showing the Sofitel engineer, Brian Yearwood, in apparently celebratory mood with a second, unidentified man on the day of the alleged attack.

He mentions earlier contact between Mr Yearwood and a senior security officer at the Paris headquarters of the hotel's French owners, Accor. The officer's boss at the time of the DSK arrest was René-Georges Querry, then head of Accor group security and a former police colleague of a man now highly placed in the intelligence team of the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr Querry said on Europe 1 radio yesterday he was unaware of the existence of the so-called "dance of joy" video, showing Mr Yearwood and the other man, until he read Epstein's article.

"There's nothing to suggest they are congratulating themselves on having heard a woman say she had just been sexually assaulted," he said. "We cannot rely on eight seconds of gesticulation by two people who unexpectedly appear like that in the affair."

Epstein has said he is awaiting the go-ahead from his sources to make the video available to American television.

Of the results of his wider enquiries, he told Europe 1 he believes Mr Strauss-Kahn was under surveillance and the target of a conspiracy. "If it is a political affair, it is a French one," Epstein said, citing political enemies, secret services or interests linked to Mr Strauss-Kahn's IMF work as the possible origins of a plot.

Meanwhile, reports purporting to implicate Mr Strauss-Kahn in a separate sex scandal, this time in France, have prompted him to begin legal proceedings against several publications and Henri Guaino, a senior adviser to Mr Sarkozy.

Leaks from a judicial investigation into an alleged prostitution ring based at hotels in the northern city of Lille have suggested that women were taken to Paris and Washington for liaisons with Mr Strauss-Kahn.

Lawyers for Mr Strauss-Kahn, who has demanded to be interviewed by investigators, and his wife, the former television journalist Anne Sinclair, have announced that action is being taken against the conservative daily newspaper Le Figaro, a number of magazines and Mr Guaino.

A statement issued by the couple's lawyers did not specify the grounds for the action but said that while the couple had no wish to restrict freedom of expression, they would not "accept their privacy being exploited and fed off for purely commercial reasons".

The developments appear to reflect Mr Strauss-Kahn's gathering confidence since the charges against him in New York were thrown out.

Since Mr Strauss-Kahn returned to France in early September, the Paris authorities have dropped an investigation of an accusation by a French writer, Tristane Banon, that he tried to rape her when she interviewed him in 2003.

The public prosecutor said Mr Strauss-Kahn had admitted conduct that could be seen as a sexual assault on Banon. But, as a less serious offence than attempted rape, this could not - eight years after the event - be pursued.

Mr Strauss-Kahn has acknowledged that sexual contact occurred with the New York chambermaid, Nafissatou Diallo. He insists this was consensual but Ms Diallo is suing him in a civil court.

However, France is accustomed to political intrigue and smear campaigns and many voters still suspect dirty tricks played a part in Mr Strauss-Kahn's downfall. Even in the dark, early days following his arrest in New York, when on the gravest calculations Mr Strauss-Kahn faced a long prison sentence, French opinion polls found a majority favouring the conspiracy theory.

Claims and counter-claims are destined to continue well beyond the 2012 elections that Mr Strauss-Kahn once expected to send him to the Elysée.

But the French interior minister, Claude Guéant, one of Mr Sarkozy's closest allies, dismisses the notion of an anti-Strauss-Kahn plot.

"I would say that it is pure fantasy," he told French television. "I read Epstein's article. What does it say? That [Strauss-Kahn] lost his phone. It's not because one loses one's phone that there is a set-up. … If there is someone who thinks there was a set-up, he has only to file a complaint with the authorities and then we can stop with the rumours and innuendos."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Reuters