PARIS/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was hit with a complaint of attempted rape in France on Tuesday in a new hurdle to any political comeback even as the U.S. sex assault case against him appeared to be falling apart.
New York prosecutors were re-examining their case against the potential French presidential candidate after discovering the accuser, a 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea, had lied repeatedly about her background, undermining her credibility as a witness.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, had been enjoying his fourth day of release from house arrest in New York when French writer Tristane Banon filed a legal complaint in Paris alleging he had tried to rape her in 2003, when she was 22.
Banon, an author and journalist, gave a graphic account in a 2007 TV talk show of her allegation that Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her during an interview in a Paris apartment. Tuesday was the first time she has taken legal action.
Her complaint will be examined by a judge who, as a matter of course, would question both Banon and Strauss-Kahn, sending investigators to the United States if necessary, before deciding to either place the Frenchman under investigation or dismiss the case.
In New York, charges of sexual assault and attempted rape remained in place against Strauss-Kahn, although he has vehemently denied the allegations and prosecutors acknowledge it would be difficult to make a case against him given the series of lies and contradictions in the accuser’s statements.
The New York Post cited an unnamed senior investigator as saying prosecutors would drop their charges at a court hearing in two weeks, or even earlier, due to doubts about the credibility of the accuser.
“We all know this case is not sustainable,” the Post quoted its source as saying on Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office in New York would not confirm that prosecutors plan to drop the charges, saying they were still investigating the case.
In yet another twist to a saga that has captivated much of the world, the accuser sued the New York Post and five of its journalists on Tuesday for reporting she was a prostitute.
She filed suit in a court in the Bronx, accusing the Post of publishing false and defamatory articles between July 2-4.
The Post reported that the Sofitel housekeeper was a “hooker” who “routinely traded sex for money with male guests” and that after the purported May 14 assault, while under the protection of the District Attorney’s office, she “was turning tricks on the taxpayer’s dime,” the lawsuit said.
The Post said, “We stand by our reporting.”
In Paris, signs that the U.S. charges are unraveling have set off a round of political sparring that threatens to poison the run-up to an April 2012 presidential election that Strauss-Kahn had been tipped to win for the left.
French left-wingers, furious that their star candidate has been all but knocked out of the election race, dismissed the Banon complaint as more evidence that Strauss-Kahn’s foes were determined to bring him down.
“Strauss-Kahn’s destiny has been snatched from him. All his friends are asking how it is possible that a man who is director of the IMF and a presidential candidate finds himself in prison a few days before he submits his candidacy,” said Socialist deputy Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, a close ally of Strauss-Kahn.
“This is clearly a conspiracy against the Socialist Party,” he told LCI television.
Strauss-Kahn plans to bring a counterclaim against Banon, his lawyer said.
The Banon case may fizzle after a preliminary inquiry unless the judge deems there is tangible evidence of an attempted rape. Given the years that have lapsed since the alleged incident, there could be little aside witnesses’ conflicting statements to hold up a court case.
Unlike the United States, where rules of evidence govern admissibility, the French judge has latitude to look at any facts deemed relevant, including the credibility of the accuser, said Julie Suk, a professor at Benjamin Cardozo School of Law.
If the judge believes in his “inner conscience” that a crime took place, the case will go to a trial judge, Suk said.
In a U.S. criminal trial, prosecutors must show beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed. No comparable standard exists in France, Suk said.
Regardless of the outcome, opinion polls since the weekend suggest that more than half of French voters think Strauss-Kahn’s political career is already over.
Strauss-Kahn’s abrupt reversals of fortune have angered many French, who viewed his parading before cameras, unshaven and handcuffed in New York as a gross violation of his rights. The “perp walk” — “perp” being short for perpetrator — is common in the United States, despite complaints from defense lawyers and civil libertarians.
“I’ve always thought that perp walks were outrageous. We vilify them for the benefit of the theater and circus. They did it in Roman times, too,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news conference on Tuesday.
Two days after the May 15 “perp walk” Bloomberg had said, “I think it is humiliating, but if you don’t want to do the perp walk, don’t do the crime.”
Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle in Washington and Dominique Bareto in Fort-de-France; Writing by Catherine Bremer and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Louise Ireland and Sandra Maler