Strauss-Kahn meets accuser at Paris hearing

PARIS Thu Sep 29, 2011 4:12pm EDT

1 of 2. Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves the financial brigade in Paris September 29, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau

PARIS (Reuters) - Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrogant and avoided the glare of journalist Tristane Banon as she accused him of trying to rape her in 2003, she said after a legal confrontation on Thursday with the former IMF head.

Strauss-Kahn emerged smiling from the two-hour meeting at police station in southern Paris which will help determine whether the case is upheld.

Strauss-Kahn, 62, returned to France in August after a court in New York dropped charges that he attempted to rape hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo in his luxury suite.

Banon, 30 years Strauss-Kahn's junior, says he tried to rape her eight years ago in an empty apartment, tearing at her clothes and forcing her to fight him off.

He denies Banon's allegations, calling them "imaginary" in a televised interview earlier this month. Banon stuck to her side of the story.

"I'm sure he would have raped me if things didn't happen differently and I wasn't able to escape," Banon said in a prime-time interview on television channel TF1.

Strauss-Kahn has said he would play no role in the 2012 presidential election, but the Socialist heavyweight once favored to become president retains influence in his party.

Tanned and dressed in a dark suit, Strauss-Kahn left the police station first and stepped into a chauffeured car with tinted windows, making no comment to the media.

Banon came out 15 minutes later and was driven away in a convoy of three unmarked police vehicles with sirens blaring.

A lawyer for Strauss-Kahn told Le Parisien newspaper that both parties had stuck to their versions of the encounter.

Banon said that Strauss-Kahn had shown arrogance and self-satisfaction during the meeting. "I thought he would excuse himself, but he didn't do it, he didn't even look at me," she said.

The meeting, which took place before a judge, is a common ritual in French police investigations that will help to determine whether a charge of attempted rape is upheld, downgraded to sexual assault or dropped.

The statute of limitation for attempted rape is 10 years, versus three years for sexual assault. The top prosecutor in Paris extended a preliminary investigation into Banon's accusation to make time for the confrontation, which took place at her lawyer's request.

While Banon has said she is determined to see Strauss-Kahn face a criminal trial, legal sources doubt a charge of attempted rape can be upheld in the absence of physical evidence.

Banon has accused Strauss-Kahn of trying to force himself on her when she went to interview him for a book she was researching.

According to police sources, Strauss-Kahn, who spoke to police alone about the charge shortly after his return to France, has said he tried to kiss Banon but denies sexual assault.

Other high-profile witnesses in the case include Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande, favored to win against President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Earlier this week, Strauss-Kahn's lawyers in New York invoked his diplomatic status in an attempt to have civil charges brought against him by Diallo thrown out, after a criminal court abandoned the case in August.

In a recent interview with French television, Strauss-Kahn said the nine-minute sexual encounter with Diallo that triggered his arrest and a three-month legal battle was consensual, saying: "It was a moral error and I am not proud of it."

The New York case triggered a wave of soul-searching in French politics, media and law about sexism in a country that has long celebrated its respect for the privacy of public.

A poll released on Thursday by Elle magazine found that three-quarters of French women would have left their husband if they had found themselves in the same circumstances as Strauss-Kahn's wife Anne Sinclair, a television journalist well-known in France.

However, 54 percent said they approved of the support Sinclair had shown for Strauss-Kahn, according to the survey by pollsters IFOP.

(Reporting By Nicholas Vinocur; Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas)

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