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In France, Strauss-Kahn supporters cheer, point fingers

Friends and others declare the former IMF chief vindicated by a judge's dismissal of the sexual assault case against him in New York. They also take aim at the U.S.

August 24, 2011|By Kim Willsher, Los Angeles Times
  • The French newspaper Liberation announces the news that sexual assault charges have been dismissed against former International Monetary Fund director Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
The French newspaper Liberation announces the news that sexual assault… (Benoit Tessier, Reuters )

Reporting from Paris — To his friends and some media outlets in France, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is now blanchi, meaning he's clean of the sexual assault accusations that had blackened his name.

The dismissal by a judge in New York on Tuesday of the case against the former director of the International Monetary Fund, one day after prosecutors filed a motion to drop all charges, left his supporters also feeling vindicated and more than just a little critical of the United States.

Shame on you, America!, they huffed, with your handcuffs and perp walk and grand jury, for trampling on the presumption of innocence for a man many considered a presidential contender.

French headlines — "Strauss-Kahn: His Nightmare Summer" among them — have sought to portray Strauss-Kahn, 62, among other things, as the victim of a mendacious, money-grabbing woman and a foreign legal system.

Prosecutors acknowledged this week that their case fell apart largely because they lost confidence in Nafissatou Diallo, the 32-year-old housekeeper who accused Strauss-Kahn of trying to rape her in a suite at Manhattan's Sofitel Hotel in May.

"If we do not believe her beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot ask a jury to do so," they said in their motion filed with the court Monday.

French philosopher Daniel Salvatore Schiffer, who has never wavered in his defense of Strauss-Kahn, declared in his blog that American justice had allowed, by this "courageous and honest" decision, the emergence of "if not the truth, which we will probably never know … at least impartiality."

If the case involved nothing more than having sex with a maid, some in France say, there should be no impediment to high office in the country, where what consenting adults do behind closed doors is considered their own business.

Jerome Sainte-Marie, deputy director of the Paris-based opinion pollsters CSA, said the moral aspect of the case generally does not matter much to the French, but reckless behavior by a leader can be a problem. However brilliant Strauss-Kahn may be, the French are not prepared to accept someone who cannot control himself or puts his personal appetite before affairs of state, Sainte-Marie said.

"French people don't care about the sex or love lives of their politicians," he said. "What does matter is a lack of credibility, a lack of seriousness, particularly at a time of financial storms."

Many English-speaking journalists in Paris have been repeatedly reminded of this cultural chasm in the last three months. Questioning friends over whether having a quick sexual encounter with a stranger before dashing for lunch with your daughter and a flight home to your wife is behavior worthy of a future president risks the dry reprimand: "That's the difference between you puritanical Anglo-Saxons and we French."

Strauss-Kahn's fellow Socialists were collectively and individually "happy," "relieved," "satisfied," and in the case of Francois Hollande, who replaced Strauss-Kahn as the Socialist Party's main presidential hope, "rejoicing for Dominique Strauss-Kahn after his unbearable three-month ordeal."

"I knew from the first day that the rape accusation wouldn't hold up," added another Socialist presidential candidate, Manuel Valls.

Former Socialist government minister Jack Lang told French journalists: "I was very shocked by the way the presumption of innocence was trampled on by certain people in the United States and France. I never doubted for a moment that Dominique would come back. Justice has been done."

Money has been a recurrent theme throughout the "DSK Affair," as it is known in France, with reactions riddled with subtle — and not so subtle — suggestions that Diallo was out to get rich. A front-page cartoon in Le Monde newspaper after her lawyers launched a civil suit against Strauss-Kahn showed Diallo vacuuming bank notes from his pockets.

Conversely, revelations that Strauss-Kahn was paying $50,000 a month for a Manhattan town house, a $280,000 monthly bill for detectives and lawyers, as well as $1-million bail and a $5-million bond, sat uneasily with some Socialist colleagues, even though his heiress wife was paying the bills.

Money muddied the waters again Tuesday when Diallo's Paris-based legal representative lodged a complaint against a local town hall official and Strauss-Kahn supporter for allegedly approaching a Frenchwoman prepared to give evidence on Diallo's behalf to ask how much she wanted to keep quiet.

Remaining unresolved is the attempted-rape investigation Strauss-Kahn faces in France. Journalist and writer Tristane Banon says he assaulted her when she went to interview him in 2003, accusing him of behaving like a "rutting chimpanzee," allegations his lawyers have dismissed as "fantasy."

On Tuesday, Banon's lawyer, David Koubbi, described the "self-congratulatory" responses by Strauss-Kahn's friends to the developments in the New York case as "crass indecency."

"I regret this outcome. I regret it for Nafissatou Diallo because I believe her," Koubbi said. "But the DSK Affair in France has only just begun. Tristane is in a fighting mood. She's not ready to let this drop, but she feels sorry for what has happened to Nafissatou Diallo because she also believes she is telling the truth."

Willsher is a special correspondent.

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