x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Strauss-Kahn's accuser: schemer or immigrant survivor?

Inconsistent accounts of incident and shady ties raise doubts.

NEW YORK // First she was portrayed as a model of virtue who was violated by a rich and powerful man.

Then she was presented as a liar, a schemer associated with criminals in the New York underworld, who may have taken down the next president of France for her own financial gain.

The world remains divided on the hotel maid who accused the former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of assaulting her in a New York hotel on May 14, an explosive case which, like many sex cases, comes down to whose account of the incident you believe.

Nafissatou Diallo, whose story had been told through prosecutors and defence lawyers, gave her own account to the media this weekend in a graphic interview with Newsweek and ABC, saying Mr Strauss-Kahn behaved like a "crazy man".

It was the first time the widow with a teenage daughter, an immigrant from Guinea in west Africa, had spoken publicly since she alleged Mr Strauss-Kahn emerged naked from the bathroom of his luxury suite and forced her to perform oral sex.

Defence lawyers insist any sex was consensual and called the interview an effort to extract money from Mr Strauss-Kahn.

Ms Diallo's lawyer, Douglas Wigdor, said she wanted people to know she is not a "shakedown artist or a prostitute". The illiterate daughter of an imam, she was working as a cleaner at the luxury Manhattan hotel.

"She is not a whore, she is a good mother," said Blake Diallo, the Senegalese manager of a Harlem restaurant she once frequented, who is not related to her. "She was a wonderful, caring, hard-working African woman."

To women's-rights advocates she is a survivor who embodies the immigrant story of fleeing poverty and repression for a better life in America. They also lament how the accuser so easily becomes the accused.

Yet defenders and political supporters of Mr Strauss-Kahn were also handed material they could eagerly latch on to.

Prosecutors hoping to jail Mr Strauss-Kahn for up to 25 years were forced to report troubling information about Ms Diallo's background. In order to win US asylum she had lied about being gang-raped and she changed details of her story about what happened minutes after her encounter with Mr Strauss-Kahn.

What's more, the woman appeared to be surrounded by shady characters. The revelations threw the case into disarray, providing Mr Strauss-Kahn's defence lawyers with ammunition to undermine her credibility should the case ever reach trial.

According to lawyers for the accuser, prosecutors with the Manhattan District Attorney's office said they had found a recorded telephone conversation after the incident between her and a man detained in an Arizona jail in which she said "words to the effect" that "this guy has a lot of money. I know what I am doing".

The precise context of the conversation has been clouded by the difficulties of interpretation of a dialect of Fulani, but they were seen as seriously undermining the prosecution case.

Despite speculation that he might drop the charges, Cyrus Vance, the New York district attorney, has yet to do so, indicating prosecutors may believe parts of both narratives - that she was a victim but she also has inconvenient facts in her background.

"Poor immigrants of violence often do things to survive ... and are sometimes drawn into criminal or unsavoury activity and often end up with really poor quality immigration assistance," said Dorchen Leidholdt, the director of the battered women's services group that has provided assistance to Ms Diallo.

"She's typical of so many of the very vulnerable immigrant women in our city."