NEW YORK (Reuters) - Could Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s accuser become the accused?
That prospect arose when New York prosecutors revealed she gave misleading statements to a grand jury and lied on her U.S. asylum application, raising doubts about the hotel maid’s story that the former IMF chief sexually assaulted her when she went to clean his room.
Her contradictory statements expose her to criminal charges and possibly deportation, though it remains unclear whether authorities would have the appetite to pursue them.
“It (deportation) would be a politically unpopular thing to do,” said Kevin Johnson, a professor at University of California Davis School of Law. “We’d be seen as railroading this woman and once again she’s a victim.”
The disclosures last week appeared to severely weaken the case against Strauss-Kahn, who was forced to resign as managing director of the International Monetary Fund and was once considered a leading contender to become the Socialist candidate in France’s 2012 presidential election.
They could also make his accuser criminally liable, especially for giving the grand jury a false account of her actions at the hotel.
According to a letter prosecutors sent to Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers last week, the woman testified to the grand jury that after the May 14 incident in the luxury suite of the Sofitel hotel she fled to the hallway, waited for Strauss-Kahn to enter an elevator, and then told her supervisor about an assault.
Prosecutors said she later admitted the account was false, and that after the incident she cleaned a nearby room before returning to Strauss-Kahn’s room and cleaning it further. Only then, she said, did she report the incident to her supervisor.
In New York, lying to a grand jury is punishable by up to seven years in prison, but is a difficult crime to prosecute, said Matthew Galluzzo, a former prosecutor in the sex-crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
Prosecutors would have to show that any lie was critical to the underlying case, Galluzzo said, and the woman’s statement about her whereabouts may not meet that threshold.
“Is that really material to the action? That’s the question,” said Galluzzo. “It doesn’t really go to whether she was raped. She could say ‘I was confused by the question.'”
The woman may have a more serious problem, however, with immigration officials.
Prosecutors said she told them her 2004 application for asylum was filled with false information about her experiences in Guinea, including that she was gang-raped. She stated that she and her husband were beaten by police and soldiers of the country’s ruling party, which they opposed.
She also stated that after her husband was arrested and tortured to death, she fled the country in fear for her life.
But in interviews with prosecutors, she said a man gave her a cassette recording to coach her on what to say on the application.
The false statements on her asylum application could make her vulnerable to removal proceedings in administrative court, according to immigration law experts.
Lenni Benson, a professor at New York Law School, said to succeed in deporting her, the government would have to show that the application contained false statements and that they were material to her reasons for seeking asylum.
Benson said, however, that a deportation could have a deterrent effect on other immigrants.
“Many immigrant women do suffer from rape and do fear for their daughters,” said Benson. “It’s unfortunate that such a high-profile case could call into question their complaints.”
A law enforcement official familiar with immigration proceedings said criminal charges for false statements are rarely brought unless the person is considered a terrorist.
Deportation was more common, but in this case authorities were unlikely to seek deportation unless it was shown the woman invented the story about Strauss-Kahn for financial gain, the source said.
“Asylum fraud is one of the most pervasive forms of fraud there is,” the source said.
Kenneth Thompson, a lawyer for the woman, said she made mistakes in her past but that she was still a victim, noting that her account of a violent sexual assault had never wavered.
In the end, the maid’s fate could depend on the outcome of the case against Strauss-Kahn. Under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, sexual assault victims who assist law enforcement in an investigation or prosecution may be eligible for a special visa if they meet certain criteria.
If the case against Strauss-Kahn is dropped, she was unlikely to receive help obtaining such a visa, said James Eyster, a professor at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida.
“My guess is that they will distance themselves from her as much as possible,” Eyster said.
(Reporting by Andrew Longstreth; Editing by Jesse Wegman and Grant McCool)
This article has been modified to correct the spelling of Matthew Galluzo in paragraphs 10 and 11