DSK goes from shackles to 'victim'
Most of the French public now believe the former bitter rival of Sarkozy was set up, writes Donal Lynch
When the charges in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn attempted rape case were dropped earlier this year, the hearing in the State Supreme Court of Lower Manhattan took all of 12 minutes.
On a sweltering August afternoon, a prosecutor from the district attorney's office quickly said he had no trust in its case against the former IMF chief and even less confidence in the accuser, whom he had once championed. DSK, as he had become known, was free to leave the US and head back to France, where his reputation, it was widely agreed, would not recover.
The maid might have been unreliable but the idea that DSK couldn't be trusted around women stuck, especially when he was recently 'linked' by several French newspapers to a prostitution ring in the city of Lille. Questions,however, also lingered in the air in New York. There was talk of a set-up -- nobody, except DSK's powerful political opponents, had benefited from the scandal, after all.
There were holes in everyone's accounts. Perhaps most importantly, there had been a story -- in America's media capital, no less -- in which the final chapter had not been written: what really happened in room 2806 of the Sofitel hotel in New York on the morning of May 14 this year?
Rather than give a clear-cut answer, Edward Jay Epstein, writing in The New York Review Of Books last week, answered the question with a series of questions of his own.
In his article, Epstein -- an investigative journalist who has previously written on conspiracy theories surrounding JFK's death and the 9/11 attacks -- postulates that more than one person may have been involved in the attempted rape case against DSK.
He points to a warning to DSK -- that apparently came even before the incident -- from a female friend of the IMF boss, who was working for Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right party, the UMP. According to the woman, private emails sent from DSK's IMF-issued Blackberry had been seen at UMP headquarters.
Sarkozy himself allegedly gave his own warning to DSK, telling him he should not ride the lift alone with interns and cautioning him that: "France cannot afford a scandal."
The most interesting aspects of Epstein's account, however, relate to the sequence of events at the Sofitel on May 14.
Epstein says that at 10.07 that morning DSK phoned his wife in France and asked her to put him in touch with a specialist who could ascertain whether or not his Blackberry and iPad had been hacked. He had no time to take care of it himself because he had to meet his 26-year-old daughter Camille for lunch and then catch a flight to Paris, where he was to meet Angela Merkel.
After showering and packing his suitcase, DSK was still in the suite when Nafissitou Diallo, the maid, entered. This was some time between 12.06pm and 12.07pm.
By 12.13pm, phone records show that he was talking to his daughter to tell her he would be late. He eventually left the hotel and met her and her boyfriend shortly before 1pm at a local restaurant. From there, DSK made his way to the airport. On the way to the airport, DSK became aware that his IMF-issued BlackBerry had gone missing.
Records from the Sofitel's room-card system later showed that Diallo entered another VIP suite -- 2820 -- at 12.26pm and then went back into DSK's now empty suite again. The occupant of 2820 was never named by police and Diallo didn't tell them that she had been in there.
According to Epstein, once Diallo had reported to her superiors at the hotel what had happened, they drafted in John Sheehan. He worked as director of safety and security for Accor, which owns Sofitel.
Sheehan's boss turns out to be Rene-Georges Querry, who at the time that this was all happening in New York, was at a soccer match in Paris, seated in Sarkozy's box. Another French colleague at Accor, Xavier Graff, would later be disciplined for sending an email in which he claimed credit for helping to "bring down" DSK.
While Sheehan was making his way to the hotel, Diallo was waiting in an area off the lobby of the hotel. She was joined there by the hotel's engineer, Brian Yearwood, and another man who remained with her as she told her story to the security chief for the hotel. A few moments later, Yearwood and the unidentified man were seen on camera high-fiving each other.
While calls were exchanged with the head office in Paris, DSK was on his way to the airport -- still worried about his missing BlackBerry.
When he called the hotel, they informed police and DSK was allowed to give the flight information that would prove to be his downfall.
Meanwhile, it would be hours before Diallo would be examined at a local hospital. When eventually questioned by police, she told them that DSK had dragged her through the suite -- a distance of some 40 feet -- and after attempting to violate her vaginally and anally, he twice forced her to perform oral sex on him.
Prosecutors would later deem her an untruthful witness -- her story kept changing -- and the charges against DSK would be dropped, but not before the IMF chief's designs on the French presidency were well and truly scuppered (he had previously attempted to run for the Socialist Party but was defeated by Segolene Royale) and he had been paraded in shackles before the world's press.
Unsurprisingly, given the apparent unfairness of that process, Epstein's implication of the shady involvement of the French government has gained traction in France.
The French daily Le Monde now says that 57 per cent of people there think DSK, formerly a bitter rival of President Sarkozy, was set up.
Sofitel, the hotel group, issued a statement last week, denying involvement in any conspiracy. It should also be pointed out that if there was a honey trap, then DSK certainly leapt into it -- by his own admission -- with considerable gusto.
There is also the question of why sinister forces would attempt to set him up before he had even been selected as the Socialist Party candidate, thereby giving the party ample time to regroup and select a replacement.
Rene-Georges Querry last week called notions of a plot to bring down DSK "complete fantasy" and Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, a Socialist deputy and Mr Strauss-Kahn's ex-lieutenant, told French television he did "not believe in the conspiracy theory". Nevertheless, France remains sceptical.
And as DSK begins another rearguard action -- to stop reports of his involvement as a client in a prostitution ring in Lille -- the myth of him as a latter-day Alfred Dreyfus continues to grow.