French woman may file Strauss-Kahn sex complaint
PARIS (Reuters) - A French writer is considering filing a legal complaint over an alleged sexual incident involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2002, her lawyer said.
Accusations of a plot designed to bring down the frontrunner in the 2012 presidential election flourished on the right and left following Strauss-Kahn's weekend arrest in New York on accusations of trying to rape a hotel maid.
Referring to the case, some left-wing French politicians perceived an attack on the International Monetary Fund itself.
In a text message to Reuters on Monday, lawyer David Koubbi said his client, French writer Tristane Banon, could file a complaint over an alleged incident that took place when she went to interview Strauss-Kahn in an apartment.
"We are considering filing a complaint" against the former French finance minister, he wrote.
Strauss-Kahn appeared in a New York court on Monday and his lawyers said he would plead innocent to charges of attempted rape, a criminal sexual act and unlawful imprisonment.
Local media seized on the alleged assault on Banon, which the victim said happened in 2002. Major newspapers, including the left-leaning Liberation, Le Parisien and the conservative Le Figaro carried accounts of the incident.
A graphic description of the alleged attack, recounted by Banon herself on a 2007 television program, was posted on the Internet and widely quoted and commented upon in French blogs and websites.
In the clip Banon, who was 22 at the time of the incident, says she had asked to talk to Strauss-Kahn for a book of interviews with leading French figures about the "biggest mistake you ever made."
She told how he had insisted on holding her hand during the interview and then made advances to her. There was no independent confirmation of her version of events.
"It ended really badly. We ended up fighting. It finished really violently," the clip shows her saying. "We fought on the floor. It wasn't a case of a couple of slaps. I kicked him, he unhooked my bra, he tried to open my jeans," she said.
The politician acted, she said, like a "rutting chimpanzee."
Under French law, sexual assault charges must be filed within three years but attempted rape charges can be brought up to 10 years after the alleged attack.
"There are a number of elements, facts, which prove what she is saying," Banon's lawyer told RTL radio. "So, to the question that some people might legitimately ask: 'is she making it up?'. The answer is no."
Banon did not file charges at the time of the alleged assault after her mother Anne Mansouret, a local Socialist Party councilor and Strauss-Kahn friend, persuaded her against bringing proceedings. She says she now regrets that decision.
"At the time there was absolutely no doubt that it had happened. My error at the time was to think that it was a moment when he went off the rails."
Mansouret told French television on Sunday her daughter had become depressed after the incident, which she said had made it impossible for Banon to pursue a career as a journalist.
Some on the left saw the scandal as politically motivated. "It's the IMF that they wanted to decapitate, not just the candidate in the Socialist primary," Michelle Sabban, a senior councilor on the Paris regional council, told the center-left Le Monde newspaper.
Another Socialist politician, Gilles Savary, said on his blog that "everyone knows that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a libertine," but ruled out nothing. "Ruling out nothing includes a trap that would have suited many in France."
Others pointed the finger at French conservatives after a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling UMP party tweeted news of Strauss-Kahn's arrest well before mainstream media, following a tip-off from a friend who worked in the hotel.
The affair was given extra spice when the tweet was run by a rightwing website behind recent revelations which sparked a wave of criticism about Socialist Strauss-Kahn's luxury lifestyle.