NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawyers for the woman who accused former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault have explored a deal in which they would scuttle the criminal case in exchange for a monetary settlement in the civil lawsuit, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
The woman’s lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, strongly denied the report, which the Journal sourced to unidentified people briefed on the matter.
The report comes ahead of Tuesday’s scheduled court hearing in which Strauss-Kahn, once seen as a leading contender to be the next president of France, was due to appear before a judge for the first time since he was freed from house arrest on July 1.
Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel maid who has alleged Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted her on May 14, filed a civil claim against him last week in New York while the separate criminal case was languishing.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office appeared to be close to dropping charges after revealing that Diallo, a 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea, had fabricated a story about being gang-raped in her application for U.S. asylum. That and other misstatements undermined her credibility, endangering the case, but charges against Strauss-Kahn remain in place. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors were looking into claims that Thompson had offered to help end the criminal prosecution in exchange for a monetary settlement from Strauss-Kahn in the civil case, and they requested Thompson supply them with information about any settlement negotiations, the Journal said.
“The allegation against me is absolutely false,” Thompson wrote in an email. “It’s another baseless attack against Ms. Diallo and her attorneys and designed to distract people from the fact that Dominique Strauss-Kahn violently attacked and sexually assaulted an innocent woman inside that hotel room.”
Any suggestion that a witness’s testimony in a criminal trial would be affected by a civil settlement could draw sanctions including obstruction of justice charges or disbarment.
Strauss-Kahn, who was forced to resign his powerful post, is believed to be wealthy thanks in part to his marriage to the heiress and former television journalist Anne Sinclair.
Criminal and civil cases are handled separately in the United States, with government prosecutors deciding whether to bring criminal charges and civilians choosing whether to sue. But inevitably they become intertwined.
A criminal conviction greatly increases the likelihood a civil suit will be successful, and Diallo could torpedo the criminal case by telling prosecutors she was unwilling to cooperate.
Benjamin Brafman, one of Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers, declined to comment. The spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Strauss-Kahn, who faces charges of attempted rape, sexual abuse and other counts, has denied the allegations, and his lawyers have called for a dismissal. Prosecutors said they are still investigating.
Tuesday’s hearing -- a routine step at this stage of a criminal trial -- has been postponed twice to give prosecutors more time to investigate.
Editing by Daniel Trotta and Eric Beech