Strauss-Kahn Case: Why Prosecutors Want to Drop All ChargesAnnemarie McAvoy in The Christian Science Monitor, August 23, 2011
By Ron Scherer
Dominque Strauss-Kahn will soon be able to say au revoir to Manhattan.
After being arrested at JFK International on May 14 for an alleged sexual attack, sent to Rikers Island for detention, and released from jail only after posting a $1 million cash bail, the former head of the International Monetary Fundcould be free as soon as Tuesday to pack his bags and head back to the airport.
On Monday, district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. told Nafissatou Diallo, a maid at the Hotel Sofitel when the alleged attack against her took place, that he intends to ask the court to dismiss all charges against Mr. Strauss-Kahn.
The main reason, expected to be spelled out in detail during a court hearing Tuesday, is Ms. Diallo's credibility as a witness. A Guinean immigrant, she apparently lied on her request for US asylum and made other claims that later turned out to be false. In addition, even before Mr. Vance had decided whether to pursue the criminal case, her lawyer filed a civil lawsuit against Strauss-Kahn. Moreover, Diallo has made television appearances to explain her allegations – something most prosecutors would discourage before a case goes to court.
“I’ve never heard of a rape victim making a public statement or filing a civil action that early in the process,” says Annemarie McAvoy, a former federal prosecutor and a professor at Fordham University Law School inNew York. "The bottom line – and I hate to think this – is that they [Diallo and her lawyer] were looking for money. They wanted to put pressure on the DA’s office to keep the criminal case going, and I think it backfired.”
Outside the district attorney’s office on Monday, Diallo’s lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, made a brief appearance before a huge contingent of the press.
“Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has denied the right of a woman to get justice in a rape case,” said Mr. Thompson. “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.”
Strauss-Kahn never denied he had a sexual encounter with the maid, but he claimed the sex was consensual. In a statement Monday, his lawyers, William Taylor and Benjamin Brafman, said, “We have maintained from the beginning of this case that our client is innocent. We also maintained that there were many reasons to believe that Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s accuser was not credible.”
In a letter to Strauss-Kahn’s defense lawyers, the district attorney’s office said the accuser lied on an asylum application about a gang-rape that she said took place in Guinea, lied about what she did immediately after the alleged attack, and has been cheating on her income taxes for the past two years.
“Finally, during the course of this investigation, the complainant was untruthful with assistant district attorneys about a variety of additional topics concerning her history, background, present circumstances and personal relationships,” wrote the assistant district attorney, Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, in the letter.
On May 14, the accuser, an immigrant from Guinea, claimed Strauss-Kahn emerged from his bathroom without any clothes on and assaulted her, forcing her to perform an oral sex act. According to the district attorney’s office, the forensic evidence seemed to indicate some sexual act took place.
“It sounds like the forensic evidence was consistent with her story,” says Alan Kaufman, a former federal prosecutor and a partner in Kelley Drye & Warren’s white collar defense practice group in New York. “On the other hand, if the district attorney’s office went forward, they would have to bring out all the falsehoods and omissions that occurred during the pretrial process, and they would have had a very tough road ahead.”
The reason the district attorney’s office would have wanted to introduce the falsehoods to a jury would be try to get out in front of the defense, says Mr. Kaufman, who says prosecutors can usually deal with a few inconsistencies but “the volume of them must have been unusual.”
Over the past several weeks, the case took on political ramifications with many African-American officials calling on Vance to move ahead with the prosecution. They tried to frame it as an example of a poor black woman being victimized by a rich white man.
However, Kaufman says he thinks Vance “would bend over backwards to show he was not favoring the privileged white man at the expense of the third-world woman.”
Professor McAvoy, however, thinks Vance may have moved too fast and aggressively against Strauss-Kahn. “He was the head of the IMF and very influential in how issues were handled,” she says. “Now, there is a woman there who is handling things differently so this case may have changed the course of history.”
In fact, Strauss-Kahn was a leading contender to be the next president of France. “That’s now unlikely,” says McAvoy. “The bottom line is that everyone is looking bad.”