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Woman who accused Strauss-Kahn of sex attack goes public with her story

Housekeeper details New York hotel-room attack in interviews to ABC and Newsweek in a risky ploy to bolster case, legal experts say.

Nafissatou Diallo, left, spoke to Robin Roberts of the ABC News television channel and to Newsweek magazine. Heidi Gutman, ABC News / AP Photo
Nafissatou Diallo, left, spoke to Robin Roberts of the ABC News television channel and to Newsweek magazine. Heidi Gutman, ABC News / AP Photo

NEW YORK // The hotel housekeeper accusing Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her is telling her story publicly, she says, because she wants the former International Monetary Fund leader behind bars.

But it's hard to say whether her tactic will help or hurt her goal.

Nafissatou Diallo's decision to speak out in media interviews is an unusual and risky move for an accuser at this point in a criminal case, legal experts said.

It gives her an empowering chance to tell her side of the story as prosecutors weigh whether to press ahead with the case amid their concerns about her credibility. But it also enshrines a version of events that defence lawyers could mine for discrepancies with her grand jury testimony or use as fodder to argue she was seeking money or public attention.

Whatever the outcome, "it's an extraordinary turn of events, I would say, for her to go on a kind of lobbying, public relations campaign to get this case tried," said Bennett L Gershman, a professor at Pace Law School and a former prosecutor.

After staying silent for nearly two months about an alleged attack that Mr Strauss-Kahn vehemently denies, Ms Diallo gave her account to Newsweek and ABC News.

Adding details and her own voice to the basics authorities have given, Ms Diallo said the former IMF leader grabbed and attacked her "like a crazy man" in his $3,000-a-night Manhattan hotel suite on May 14 as she implored him to stop and feared for her job.

"I push him. I get up. I wanted to scare him. I said, 'Look, there is my supervisor right there,'" she told Newsweek in an interview in her lawyer's office. But Mr Strauss-Kahn said no one was there to hear, she said, and he went on to yank up her uniform dress, tear down her pantyhose, forcefully grab her crotch and then grip her head and force her to perform oral sex.

Mr Strauss-Kahn's lawyers called the interviews "an unseemly circus" designed to inflame public opinion.

The interviews come with the case against Mr Strauss-Kahn in limbo after Manhattan prosecutors raised doubts about the housekeeper's credibility. They said on July 1 that she had lied about her life story and gave inconsistent descriptions about what she did right after the alleged attack.

The disclosures prompted her lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, to criticise the district attorney, press prosecutors to keep going with the case and even call for a special prosecutor to take over.

Ms Diallo told her interviewers she wants Mr Strauss-Kahn held accountable.

"I want him to go to jail. I want him to know there are some places you cannot use your power, you cannot use your money," she told Newsweek.

Ms Diallo told ABC she didn't know Mr Strauss-Kahn was a high-profile French politician until later.

Before Sunday, the 32-year-old Guinean immigrant's name had been reported by some French media outlets but not by major US media, which generally protect the identities of people who say they have been sexually assaulted.

"I never want to be in public, but I have no choice," she said, according to ABC News.

Prosecutors generally discourage potential witnesses in criminal cases from speaking outside court while a case is pending, partly to avoid creating multiple accounts that could diverge, even slightly. In a trial, such gaps can become thin edges of a wedge for adversaries to drive doubts about an accuser's veracity into jurors' minds.

The housekeeper's interviews also could provide an avenue for Mr Strauss-Kahn's lawyers to suggest she was out for publicity or cash, a notion that already has shadowed the case. A day after Mr Strauss-Kahn's arrest, she was recorded alluding to his wealth on a phone call with an incarcerated friend, a law enforcement official has said.

Newsweek said she had not ruled out trying to make some money from her situation, a suggestion that a civil lawsuit could be forthcoming, though she told the magazine, "I don't think about money."

In the interviews, Ms Diallo addresses some of the inconsistencies that already have rocked the case.

She testified to a grand jury that after the alleged attack, she cowered in a hallway and watched Mr Strauss-Kahn leave, then told a supervisor. Prosecutors said earlier this month that she later told them she actually had gone on cleaning rooms before consulting her boss. Ms Diallo told Newsweek she was disoriented and went into the rooms briefly before a supervisor appeared and asked why she was upset, but the maid denied changing her account.

Ms Diallo also lied about her background, including by telling prosecutors an emotional story of being gang-raped in her homeland, they said. She told Newsweek she was raped by two soldiers but acknowledged she had embellished her life story on her 2003 asylum application; prosecutors have said she told them she repeated the lies to them to be consistent.