A startling new report by investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein suggests that the arrest of then-International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on sexual assault charges in New York last May may have been a setup engineered by his political opponents.
The article, based among other things on examination of hotel card-key records, cell phone records and hotel security video, appears in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books. The N.Y. Review website appears to have crashed as of Saturday night, but a detailed account of the findings, including a narrative and a reconstructed blow-by-blow timeline appears in the conservative British Daily Mail. Among other things, the accuser, hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo, made an unexplained visit to an adjoining room after her encounter with Strauss-Kahn and before making her complaint to hotel security. Strauss-Kahn later found his Blackberry was missing; Epstein reports it remained in the hotel and went dead about 40 minutes after the incident.
Strauss-Kahn, a major figure in the French Socialist Party, was the clear front-runner to succeed the unpopular President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose term runs out in 2012. The arrest and highly publicized investigation forced him to resign as IMF chief and ended his political career, though charges were dramatically dropped in August, allowing him to return to France. The secretary-general of Sarkozy’s UMP party has dismissed the suggestion of a setup as “a manipulation.”
A summary of Epstein’s article in the left-wing British daily The Guardian briefly sums up what it considers the most telling pieces of evidence:
Epstein’s article does appear to raise some odd questions about the case. It points out numerous holes and discrepancies in the accounts of those who portrayed Strauss-Kahn as an attacker, identifies a missing BlackBerry which may contain warnings to the Frenchman that he was being set up, and examines possible links between Sofitel staff and Strauss-Kahn’s political opponents. The most unusual evidence described by Epstein is a security video of the hotel’s engineer, Brian Yearwood, and an unidentified man apparently celebrating the day’s events. Earlier, Yearwood had been communicating with John Sheehan, a security expert at Accor, which owns Sofitel, and whose boss, René-Georges Querry, once worked with a man now in intelligence for Sarkozy. The unidentified man with Yearwood had been spotted previously on hotel security cameras accompanying Diallo to the hotel’s security office after the alleged attack. The video shows the men near the area where Diallo is recounting her story and, less than two minutes after police have been called, they seem to congratulate each other. “The two men high-five each other, clap their hands, and do what looks like an extraordinary dance of celebration that lasts for three minutes. They are then shown standing by the service door … apparently waiting for the police to arrive,” Epstein writes. Epstein meticulously pieces together the movements of hotel staff and Strauss-Kahn by examining the electronic records left by their room keys and phones. These show Diallo entered the room between 12.06 and 12.07pm. At 12.13pm, Strauss-Kahn called his daughter about having lunch. During those six or seven minutes, Diallo said she was brutally sexually attacked and dragged around the room.
Strauss-Kahn remained in New York until the case was dismissed in August, after prosecutors found discrepancies in the accuser’s testimony that they believed showed her not to be a credible witness. Once back in Paris Strauss-Kahn was accused by a French writer, Tristane Banon, of attempted rape during a 2003 interview, but prosecutors dropped charges in October. She dropped her civil suit a few days later, saying she felt vindicated when prosecutors said there was evidence that she was telling the truth. He’s now caught in another scandal involving an alleged hotel prostitution ring. Strauss-Kahn has filed lawsuits against the daily Le Figaro and four weekly magazines for their accounts, which he denies, and he is reportedly planning to sue an aide to Sarkozy who discussed the allegations in a television interview.
Strauss-Kahn, a former French finance minister, would have been France’s first Jewish president, though the country has had five Jewish prime ministers (Leon Blum, 1938 (twice), 1946-47; Rene Mayer, January-June 1953; Pierre Mendes-France, 1954-55; Michel Debre, 1959-62, father Jewish; Laurent Fabius, 1984-86, parents converted, raised Catholic but publicly identified himself as Jewish)), more than any country except Israel.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).