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Rush to judgment comes back to haunt NY's finest as Strauss-Kahn walks

As he walked out of the courthouse in downtown Manhattan on Friday last, Dominique Strauss-Kahn's expression was surprisingly calm. Apart from one quick smile, the 62-year-old maintained a detached countenance, clasping his wife Anne's hand as he made a beeline for the black Lexus waiting on the curb in front of him.

DSK seemed oblivious to the mob of photographers and TV cameras lining his path. Ditto the horde of civilians with their hands stretched high trying to capture an image of the moment a supposedly slam-dunk turned inside-out.

Out of nowhere one question stopped the former head of the IMF in his tracks.

Did he feel vindicated, a voice in the crowd asked.

The alleged sexual predator whose torrid fall from grace turned into a global gladiator-scale fascination turned on his heel as if to answer but his mouth didn't move.

In that moment, it appeared as if DSK was as stunned as everyone else by the remarkable turn of events which had unfolded over the previous 12 hours.

Twelve hours later, as the nightly news broadcasts tried to recapture the day's drama, DSK was probably surprised to hear that he was no longer being referred to as "Le Perv". Instead, he was described as "charming" and even "a ladies' man," who, gushed the toothy talking heads (possibly overcompensating for all the ugly things they have said about him during the last six weeks), now stands a very good chance of becoming the next president of France.

At the end of each report, there was an obligatory clarification: DSK hasn't actually been cleared of the charges of sexual assault levelled against him by a hotel maid, but given the prosecution's evidence that she can no longer be considered a credible witness, it sure looks as if the case has crumbled.

The former French presidential frontrunner celebrated his first night of freedom with a €400 dinner of truffles and sea-bass at an Upper East Side Italian restaurant with his wife Anne Sinclair, a millionaire television presenter, and two family friends.

If, as many believe, the violent charges brought against DSK played out like a contemporary morality drama about the corruption of power (the wealthy, imperious French businessman vs. the unschooled chambermaid born, according to the New York Times, "in a mud hut in an isolated hamlet in Africa with no electricity or running water") the case as it will unfold when it returns to court on July 18 might become a modern classic about how justice cannot be served.

There are probably only two people who really know what went on in room 2806 of the Sofitel Hotel on the morning of Saturday May 14. One is DSK who checked in to the $3,000-a-night suite the previous day. The other is the 32-year-old Guinean single mother working as a maid who, according to the police complaint and grand-jury indictment, entered room 2806 that morning thinking it was empty.

To her horror, she alleged, DSK came out of the bathroom naked, grabbed her, pulled her into the bedroom and threw her onto the bed, where he forced her to perform oral sex on him. He had by then locked the door to the suite which she says she had, as was her custom, left ajar.

Fox News ran a transcript of the few words she claimed were exchanged during the alleged assault.

DSK: "Don't you know who I am! Don't you know who I am?"

MAID: "Please, please stop. No! My manager is in the hallway. Please stop. I need my job, I can't lose my job, don't do this. I will lose my job. Please, please stop! Please stop!"

DSK: "No, baby. Don't worry, you're not going to lose your job. Don't you know who I am? Don't you know who I am?"

After the assault, the 32-year-old said she escaped by slamming DSK into an armoire and then fled into a side hallway where she was discovered by a supervisor. According to the NYPD, DSK had a gash on his back and blood was found on the bed sheets. The maid's lawyer, Ken Thompson said that DSK had bruised his client's genitals and tore a ligament in her shoulder in the struggle. A semen sample collected off the maid's uniform and sent to French authorities by American investigators came back positive as DSK's.

Days after DSK's humiliating arrest and infamous perp walk, his lawyers floated their strategy that the sexual encounter was consensual. It was considered a very French way to handle the situation (read: arrogant).

Soon after, it was reported that DSK had "hired private detectives as well as prominent defense lawyers who have said in court papers that they had "substantial information" that could "gravely undermine" her credibility (repeat: arrogant).

The prosecution, led by first-term Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, wasn't rattled. In true American spirit, they believed the victim "offered a compelling and unwavering story" that would stand up in court. But as with any case based on probable cause, the prosecution started to investigate everything the victim told them.

The discrepancies came in dribs and drabs. Some were inconsistencies, others outright lies. The red flags turned into screaming alarms this past Wednesday when the prosecution team realised their case was untenable. They had just gotten their hands on a transcript of a phone call the maid placed to her boyfriend serving time in an Arizona jail for possession of marijuana.

During this conversation, which was recorded 28 hours after the maid filed her charges, she said words to the effect of 'Don't worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I'm doing'.

Prosecution investigators dug deeper through the night and discovered the man in jail was one of several people who suspiciously deposited $100,000 in cash in the maid's bank account over the last two years. When confronted, the maid claimed to know nothing about the deposits.

This evidence was part of a series of bombshell revelations Mr Vance unloaded on the court on Friday last when he filed an acknowledgement that his witness has repeatedly lied to the police and, under oath, to the grand jury.

Contrary to her claim that she reported the attack immediately after it happened, the maid actually left DSK's suite and cleaned another room. She then returned to DSK's suite to clean it. It was then she told her supervisor she had been attacked.

The maid also admitted to prosecutors that she lied about the torture and death of her husband at the hands of government troops in Guinea just as she lied about her claims to having been gang-raped and having undergone genital mutilation. She told these lies, she said, to improve her chances on an asylum application. She had no justification for claiming a fictitious second child on her tax returns and despite evidence to the contrary, she refused to admit she was paying bills for five different cell phone accounts.

Outside the courthouse on Friday last, the maid's distraught attorney, Mr Thompson, pleaded with anyone who would listen to keep an open mind. "It is clear that this woman made some mistakes, but that doesn't mean she's not a rape victim," he said, stressing his client's account has remained consistent.

"From day one she has described a violent sexual assault that Dominique Strauss-Kahn committed against her. She has described that sexual assault many times, to prosecutors and to me, and she has never once changed a single thing about that encounter."

Mr Thompson said his client is devastated by last Friday's events. He also said she will take the remarkable move of appearing before the cameras in coming days to recount what she claims happened. Her public appearance during an ongoing investigation would be extraordinary but would also put pressure on prosecutors not to drop the case -- as Mr Thompson claimed they want to do.

Suggestions that a domineering man who has been ridiculed as "a chimpanzee in heat" and "a randy monkey" might still be a player on the political scene are equally shady.

Contrary to the peppy media coverage eager to convey some kind of rosy resolution to this story, the brutal reality is that a powerful man might get away with a savage crime because of the chequered past of his victim or a genuinely talented and much-needed leader might just have had his life and career derailed due to the heavy-handed tactics employed by an over-zealous prosecutor. There's also the chance that a disadvantaged woman who works two jobs as a single mother might have been unforgivably abused by a self-entitled elitist who got what he wanted -- and got away with it.

Any-which-way, chances are we'll never know.

Sunday Independent