Strauss-Kahn May Still Be Tried on Sexual Assault Charges

Former IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn,
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief appears with his lawyer Benjamin Brafman in court in New York on July 1, 2011. Photographer: Todd Heisler/Pool via Bloomberg

Revelations that the accuser of Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a liar and a tax cheat don’t mean the former International Monetary Fund chief can’t be tried on sexual assault charges, lawyers said.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance revealed yesterday that the hotel maid who accused the French economist and politician of forcing her to perform oral sex had been untruthful with prosecutors about the circumstances of her emigration to the U.S., her tax status and about her actions immediately after the alleged assault on May 14.

Strauss-Kahn, 62, was released from house arrest yesterday, a sign that prosecutors are less concerned about him fleeing than they were when he was pulled from an Air France flight in May and arrested. A hearing has been scheduled for July 18. Prosecutors will keep his travel documents.

Strauss-Kahn is charged with two criminal sexual acts, one count of attempted rape, unlawful imprisonment, two counts of sexual abuse and one count of forcible touching. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The alleged victim’s false statements to prosecutors, by themselves, don’t preclude the case going forward, said John Moscow, a former prosecutor in the office of Vance’s predecessor, Robert Morgenthau.

“The decision to proceed depends on whether the case is triable,” he said. “Can you get her to tell the truth and admit that she lied?”

Episodes of Dishonesty

John Clune, who represented the Colorado woman who accused Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant of rape in 2003 and then requested that the case be withdrawn, said it isn’t uncommon for victims to have had episodes of dishonesty in their past.

“The question is whether those things are going to prohibit the DA from going forward,” he said. “This is something that prosecutors deal with on a daily basis. In regards to being dishonest about why she came to this country, it would be a shame if the prosecutor felt she was a victim of rape but didn’t go forward because of that.”

In a letter to Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers, prosecutors said the 32-year-old victim had changed her story about what she did in the Sofitel hotel, where she worked, in the immediate aftermath of the reported attack.

She told prosecutors and a grand jury that after Strauss-Kahn assaulted her, she fled his room on the 28th floor and hid in the hallway. Once she saw Strauss-Kahn enter the elevator and leave, she reported the incident to her supervisor, she said initially.

Returned to Suite

“The complainant has since admitted that this account was false and that after the incident in Suite 2806, she proceeded to clean a nearby room and then returned to Suite 2806 and began to clean that suite before she reported the incident to her supervisor,” prosecutors wrote.

False statements about the events immediately before or after a sexual assault are common, said Sheri Vanino, a trauma psychologist in Denver who often testifies as an expert witness in rape cases.

“That to me sounds similar to what a lot of victims do,” Vanino said of the change in the account by Strauss-Kahn’s accuser. “In an effort to be believed, they present the aftermath of what happened the way everyone would expect.”

Other rape-trauma experts agreed.

“It becomes very hard when someone may not be an angel,” said Sharmili Majmudar, executive director of Rape Victim Advocacy in Chicago. “Every single thing about them becomes a reason not to believe her. Whether or not she is an upstanding person doesn’t actually mean that he did or didn’t assault her. We tend to conflate the two.”

Credibility Issues

Billy Martin, a lawyer who has represented defendants including basketball players Jayson Williams and Allen Iverson, and pro football’s Michael Vick, praised Vance for disclosing information undermining the victim’s credibility. The case against Strauss-Kahn will now be difficult to make, he said.

“Once the prosecutors determine that they don’t believe the accuser, or that accuser has lied to them on critical matters, the case begins to unravel,” Martin said. “They have to go before a jury and say, ‘We’re bringing to you a witness who’s credible.’ If they no longer believe that witness, that’s next to impossible.”

The Strauss-Kahn case is critically dependent on the testimony of the victim, said Mark Zauderer, a former federal prosecutor.

‘Deep Trouble’

“This case is in deep trouble,” Zauderer said.

“Although the DA is proceeding cautiously, at the end of the day, this case cannot go anywhere,” he said. “There is too much direct evidence of the witness’s fabrications to permit a responsible DA to present her accusatory testimony. All of the so-called corroborative evidence appears to be equally consistent with a consensual encounter as an assault.”

Kenneth Thompson, a lawyer representing the housekeeper, told reporters outside court yesterday that medical and forensic evidence supports the woman’s account.

Susan Xenarios, director of the St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Crime Victims Treatment Center, said the district attorney should continue to prosecute the case.

“We’re forgetting about what happened at the Sofitel,” Xenarios said. “I’m really worried. I really hope the DA’s office does not cave in. I would hope that politics and the reputation of the office doesn’t get in the way and they look at this as a no-win for them.”

The case is People v. Strauss-Kahn, 2526/11, Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County (Manhattan).

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