10:13am

Fri July 1, 2011
Law

Strauss-Kahn Sex-Assault Case May Be Crumbling

New York prosecutors in the sexual assault case against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn were expected to concede in court Friday that serious questions have arisen over the credibility of his accuser.

Concerns that the woman, a hotel housekeeper, might have lied in parts of her story leading up to and immediately after the alleged assault in May were likely to weigh in Strauss-Kahn's favor at a hearing to reduce his strict bail conditions.

Prosecutors were not expected to object if Strauss-Kahn, who has been under house arrest in Manhattan while awaiting trial, is released on his own recognizance.

The New York Times reported that after the maid claimed to have been assaulted by Strauss-Kahn in a hallway of his $3,000-a-night suite at New York's Sofitel hotel, she reportedly had a phone conversation with a man who has been behind bars for drug offenses. The two allegedly discussed the benefits of going forward with accusations against a man who is so famous and wealthy.

"Perhaps more importantly, investigators are apparently concerned about things dating years back in her background," NPR's Carrie Johnson said of the housekeeper, who is a native of Guinea in West Africa. "Based on what sources are saying, there are lots of issues from this housekeeper's past, perhaps even dating from her application for asylum to enter this country."

In France, news that the case may be in jeopardy revived Socialist Party hopes that Strauss-Kahn would make a bid to unseat President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's election — a possibility that seemed all but impossible after the accusations first came to light.

Strauss-Kahn, 62, has been under armed guard in a Manhattan town house since posting a total of $6 million in cash bail and bond. He has denied the allegations, and his lawyers have said any intimate contact was consensual.

Prosecutors' apparent doubts about the woman's credibility do not mean that they discount her allegation of rape, but they could seriously complicate the case against Strauss-Kahn, NPR's Johnson said.

The 32-year-old maid told police that Strauss-Kahn chased her down, tried to pull down her pantyhose and forced her to perform oral sex before she broke free.

"The government has said on the record that they do have DNA evidence linking Strauss-Kahn to that hotel room and to clothing on the housekeeper and perhaps even to carpeting on the hotel floor," Johnson said. "However, Strauss-Kahn has been setting up a defense all along that contact with this housekeeper was consensual, so therefore it wouldn't a surprise to find some DNA."

The New York Police Department, which investigated the case, declined to comment to The Associated Press. The woman's lawyer did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

"There will be serious issues raised by the district attorney's office and us concerning the credibility of the complaining witness," Benjamin Brafman, a lawyer for Strauss-Kahn, told The Wall Street Journal.

If the case collapses, Strauss-Kahn, a prominent Socialist, could once again be a leading potential challenger to conservative Sarkozy. It also could revive speculation of a conspiracy against him aimed at torpedoing his presidential chances.

A poll conducted within days of his arrest suggested that a majority of French think Strauss-Kahn — who has a longstanding reputation as a womanizer and is nicknamed "the great seducer" — was the victim of a plot.

In early hearings, prosecutors underscored that they thought the evidence against Strauss-Kahn was formidable. They had argued against his release from custody in May, citing the violent nature of the alleged offenses and saying his wealth and international connections would make it easy for him to flee.

A law enforcement official told the AP that the woman was in Strauss-Kahn's room only briefly before the alleged attack, that his semen was found on her uniform, and that she quickly reported the alleged assault and told a consistent story about it to investigators and prosecutors,

Prosecutors have said in court that Strauss-Kahn appeared on surveillance tapes to be in a hurry as he left the hotel, though his lawyers have said he was merely rushing to lunch.

Strauss-Kahn was in New York on a personal trip when the maid made her accusations. During initial bail hearings, prosecutors noted that he was arrested on a Paris-bound plane at Kennedy Airport, and that they could not compel his return from France if he fled.

His lawyers have underscored that it was a long-planned flight and have said he wants to return to court to clear his name.

Defense lawyers have said that the hotel encounter wasn't forcible, and that they have unreleased information that could "gravely undermine the credibility" of the housekeeper. The defense was using private investigators to aggressively check out the victim's background and her story, but the Times reported that it was investigators for the prosecution who uncovered discrepancies.

NPR's Carrie Johnson reported from Washington, D.C., for this story, which contains material from The Associated Press.

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