US & Canada

Maid's interview a dramatic turn in Strauss-Kahn case

Nafissatou Diallo and Dominique Strauss-Khan
Image caption Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was charged with sexual assault in May

Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel maid from Guinea, has come out of the shadows and told the world that Dominique Strauss-Kahn tried to sexually assault her - the latest dramatic twist in what was already a cliff-hanger of a case.

It is unusual, to put it mildly, for a witness to speak out at this stage in a criminal case - let alone to conduct interviews for ABC News and Newsweek. But then there is nothing normal about this case.

The interviews are the latest stage in a pitched battle between the respective camps of Nafissatou Diallo and Dominique Strauss-Kahn - a clash which reflects two very different worlds, the marginal existence of the West African immigrant in the Bronx, and the well heeled, well-connected lifestyle of a member of the global financial elite.

Linda Fairstein, the crime writer who was formerly the head of the sex crimes unit at the Manhattan District Attorney's office, thinks Ms Diallo's decision to give the interviews could go either way.

"As a prosecutor, the rule is you want your witness to speak in the courtroom, and not to the media," she said.

"Interviews raise problems for prosecutors - even if the story is consistent, each interview gives the defence more possible details to cross examine her with. A mistake or a slip of the tongue becomes 20 minutes of cross examination in a courtroom."

'Intelligent and consistent'

Yet after Ms Fairstein read every detail of the Newsweek/Daily Beast article, and watched Ms Diallo's ABC interview with Good Morning America, her conclusion was positive.

Image caption It was the first time Ms Diallo had spoken out publicly

"I came away thinking her story helped the prosecution case - she came across as intelligent and consistent with the story, she explained all the circumstances, she presented a very compelling picture."

Ms Diallo's high-profile interviews came at the end of a month which started badly for her.

The prosecution, having looked into her background, went to court and told the defence lawyers there were credibility issues with the alleged victim.

She had not told the truth on her asylum application or her tax return, and she had changed her account of what happened in the immediate aftermath of the alleged attack, they said.

James Cohen, professor of law at Fordham University, says Ms Diallo's target audience with her interviews was "[Manhattan District Attorney Cy] Vance and the community, victims' rights groups and domestic violence groups".

"She's saying that she was the victim here, and yes, she's made mistakes, who hasn't, and she's still the victim," he said.

'Unseemly circus'

Prof Cohen believes her intervention increases the pressure on the prosecution not to drop the case - but he still thinks the case is likely to be dropped, because of doubts about Ms Diallo's reliability as a witness.

"If she's going to lie on her asylum application, that suggests she's so desperate to stay in this country that she'll lie about anything," he said.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn's lawyers, Ben Brafman and William Taylor, described the interview as an "unseemly circus".

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Media captionNafissatou Diallo appeared on ABC's breakfast TV show, Good Morning America

They claimed Ms Diallo is waging a media campaign "intended to force a prosecutor to pursue charges against an innocent person, an innocent person from whom Ms Diallo wants money".

Ms Diallo's lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, has for his part accused Mr Strauss Kahn's lawyers of conducting "an unprecedented smear campaign against the victim of a violent sexual attack".

Mr Strauss-Kahn, with his wealth, has hired well-known lawyers.

Matthew Kluger, a criminal defence attorney in New York, says: "He has two of the best attorneys you could possibly have - two of the best in the country. They're chomping at the bit for this to go to trial."

Ms Diallo's lawyer is best known as the federal prosecutor who brought the criminal case against New York police officers for brutalising Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in 1997.

Mr Strauss-Kahn's lawyers are calling on the DA's office to drop the charges against their client - while Ms Diallo wants to see the former IMF boss in jail.

The next court hearing is set for 1 August.