US & Canada

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: How cracks appeared in the case

Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York, 1 July
Image caption Dominique Strauss-Kahn enjoys his first night of freedom in New York

The case is not over. There will be no rush to judgment. The process will go on.

These were the words of Judge Michael Obus in New York as he freed Dominique Strauss-Kahn from house arrest.

The former IMF chief was still charged with sexually assaulting a hotel maid, said District Attorney Cyrus Vance, and the investigation would continue.

So how did a case that Mr Vance's prosecutors had so much confidence in winning subside to a point where the maid's lawyer accused him of "laying the foundation to dismiss" it?

The lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, said: "We believe that he's afraid that he's going to lose this high-profile case."

'Penalty of perjury'

In the days after 14 May, when Mr Strauss-Kahn was arrested at John F Kennedy airport after boarding a flight to Paris, prosecutors and police strongly defended the maid's credibility, saying her story was consistent.

The prosecution fought an attempt to grant Mr Strauss-Kahn any bail, citing the severity of the charges and that his "unusual haste" in leaving the alleged crime scene showed he was a flight risk.

It lost the argument and, on May 20, he was granted bail, albeit under severe restrictions.

Information continued to leak out in the US media, including reports that DNA found on the clothes of the maid matched Mr Strauss-Kahn.

The leaks annoyed the defence team, which had kept its case largely under wraps.

Mr Strauss-Kahn's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, had merely said: "The forensic evidence, we believe, will not be consistent with a forcible encounter."

However, on 25 May, a letter from Mr Brafman to the prosecution suggested the defence team had not been idle in its own investigations. It had employed at least two sets of investigators to look into the maid's background in the US and her country of origin, Guinea.

"We could now release substantial information that, in our view, would seriously undermine the quality of this prosecution and gravely undermine the credibility of the complainant," Mr Brafman wrote.

The prosecution wrote back, saying that it trusted Mr Brafman would forward any such information immediately.

Image caption The maid changed her story about the aftermath of the alleged attack

It is not yet known whether the defence or the prosecution, or a combination of both, created the doubts of credibility in the maid that led law enforcement officials to tell the New York Times on 30 June that the accuser had repeatedly lied and the case was in trouble.

On the same day, Mr Vance wrote to the defence team, outlining a number of untruths the prosecution had now attributed to the maid.

They fell into two main areas - the maid's asylum application and her story of what happened after the alleged assault at the Sofitel, where she worked.

Mr Vance said she had admitted that her story - submitted "under penalty of perjury" - of mistreatment, abuse, persecution and gang-rape in Guinea had been false.

She accepted it had been fabricated with the help of a man who had supplied a cassette of facts that she had memorised.

Relating to the alleged assault in New York, Mr Vance said the maid had originally claimed she had fled to a hallway on the 28th floor and waited for Mr Strauss-Kahn to leave before reporting the incident.

This was her Grand Jury testimony which she now admitted was false, he wrote. She instead went to clean another room and then went back to clean Mr Strauss-Kahn's suite 2806.

Future of the case

The New York Times has gone further, quoting law enforcement officials and lawyer statements as showing there had been a six-week deterioration of credibility.

The paper said that "sit-downs with prosecutors became tense, even angry. Initially composed, she later collapsed in tears and got down on the floor during questioning".

The Times also points to another area which is not covered in Mr Vance's letter.

Image caption The maid's lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, accused the district attorney of preparing for dismissal

This was a phone call the maid allegedly made to a man in an Arizona jail just a day after the alleged sexual assault in which, the Times quotes a law enforcement official as reporting, she said: "Don't worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I'm doing."

At the time, one of her lawyers, Jeffrey Shapiro, said the maid had found out Mr Strauss-Kahn's identity a day after the alleged assault when a friend had called her.

He said: "When she found out this encounter was with a man of great power and wealth she feared not only for herself but more importantly for her daughter."

The timings of any of the alleged calls remains unclear.

There are also unconfirmed reports of tens of thousands of dollars being paid into the woman's bank account over the past two years.

So where does this leave the case?

There had been indications the defence would point to a consensual act.

In sexual assault and rape cases, where there are often no other witnesses, the credibility of the two parties can become crucial, so the defence clearly seems to have been strengthened.

However, many cases have still been successfully prosecuted with compromised complainants.

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Media captionManhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance vows to pursue the investigation

And judging by the comments of the maid's lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, she still intends to pursue the case vigorously.

He is likely to focus on the alleged act itself, which he says was "a violent sexual assault" in which Mr Strauss-Kahn bruised the maid's body and threw her to the floor.

"She has never once changed a single thing about that account. The district attorney knows that," Mr Thompson said. "The only defence Dominique Strauss-Kahn has is that this sexual encounter was consensual. That is a lie."

And although she has admitted fabricating evidence on her asylum claim, she would certainly not be the first person desperate enough to get to the United States to do so.

Her team may also point to the fact that the shame and humiliation of rape victims often leads them to delayed or confused reporting of the aftermath.

The defence may say her current story opens up the possibility she doctored the scene or used the time to plan a particular course of action.

One possibility is the prosecution could drop the three felony charges in a plea bargain in which the defence accepts the four lesser misdemeanour charges - and a maximum one year in jail.

But most analysts believe the defence is now committed to full acquittal.

As for the maid, Mr Thompson says: "She is going to tell you what Dominique Strauss-Kahn did to her. The victim will stand before you."

But will she be believed?