French writer Tristane Banon, right, is accusing former International… (AFP/Getty Images )
Reporting from Paris — The Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal took a new twist Tuesday when a French writer filed a lawsuit in Paris accusing the former head of the International Monetary Fund of attempted rape.
Tristane Banon, 32, said the veteran politician attacked her in a Paris apartment when she went to interview him for a book she was writing in 2003.
Strauss-Kahn's Paris lawyers have responded by saying they will sue Banon for what they say are slanderous statements, describing her accusations as "imaginary."
Banon's lawyer, David Koubbi, said he submitted the legal complaint to the public prosecutors office Tuesday. He described the alleged attack as being "of a particular violence and particular seriousness." Koubbi said the legal proceedings would center on the behavior of Strauss-Kahn when Banon went to interview him in February 2003.
Banon, who was 23 at the time, later spoke about the alleged assault on French TV and described Strauss-Kahn, then a leading member of France's Socialist Party, as acting like a "rutting chimpanzee." Strauss-Kahn's name was censored.
The alleged incident went largely unreported in France until Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York in May and accused of sexually assaulting a maid in his suite at the Sofitel Hotel. The 62-year-old politician, who had been widely expected to become the next French president, denied the charges.
After questions were raised about the credibility of evidence given by the maid, Strauss-Kahn was released without bail Friday, but his passport was not returned.
The apparent weaknesses of the New York case have led some of Strauss-Kahn's colleagues and supporters to suggest that he could make a political comeback at home. French media have widely criticized the "legal fiasco" in the United States, and more than one magazine has evoked "La Resurrection" of Strauss-Kahn.
In an exclusive interview with the French magazine L'Express published Tuesday, Banon explained why she had decided to lodge her lawsuit just as it appeared the judicial tide was turning in favor of Strauss-Kahn.
"I can no longer hear that I am a liar because I haven't made a legal complaint," she said. "For eight years I have carried the weight of this incident alone, hearing rumors and lies about me."
She said of the New York case: "If she [the maid] lied about certain things, that doesn't necessarily mean she lied about the rape. For me it has become unbearable. And then to see Strauss-Kahn no sooner free than eating in a luxury restaurant with friends makes me ill."
Banon, formerly a close friend of Strauss-Kahn's daughter Camille, said she had made the decision to go to court on May 15, before the latest events in New York. "I want to be heard because perhaps, finally, there's a chance I will be listened to."
Asked why she had waited eight years to file a lawsuit, she said everyone had told her that if she did "it would come to nothing."
Under French law, attempted-rape charges can be brought up to 10 years after an alleged attack, whereas sexual-assault charges expire after three years. With the filing of Banon's lawsuit, the public prosecutor must decide if a criminal case should be launched. If a case is not filed and accepted by a judge within three months, Banon can pursue a civil case.
In the television program broadcast in 2007, Banon accused Strauss-Kahn of leaping on her, wrenching open her bra and trying to unbutton her jeans.
The writer said she was forced to fight him off. "It finished badly ... very violently ... I kicked him," she said. "When we were fighting, I mentioned the word rape to make him afraid, but it didn't have any effect. I managed to get out."
At the time of the alleged incident, Banon was reportedly dissuaded from taking legal action by her mother, Anne Mansouret, who is a regional councilor for Strauss-Kahn's political party.
Mansouret told journalists in May she regretted having dissuaded her daughter then, but had done so because she believed Strauss-Kahn's behavior had been out of character and because of close links with his family. Strauss-Kahn's second wife was Banon's godmother.
Before Koubbi's announcement, France was divided on whether it wanted Strauss-Kahn, a former government minister, back in public life.
A poll released Monday found that 51% of respondents said they thought Strauss-Kahn no longer had a political future, while 42% said he did. Another poll published Sunday in Le Parisien showed that 49% of respondents said they wanted Strauss-Kahn to return to French politics.
Willsher is a special correspondent.