Paris Dominique Strauss-Kahn faced a potential new sexual assault investigation Monday after a young French writer said she would formally accuse him of trying to rape her during a 2002 book interview — a dizzying turn of events just as the former IMF chief’s fortunes seemed to be growing brighter.
With France debating his possible return to presidential politics, Strauss-Kahn swiftly hit back at author Tristane Banon’s plans to take him to court over the attempted rape accusations, labeling her account “imaginary” and countering with his own plans to file a criminal complaint of slander.
The sordid exchange may have deep ramifications for the 2012 presidential race in France, where the surprise weakening of the sexual assault case against Strauss-Kahn in New York last week sparked a fierce debate about whether he should return to politics if the American case against him collapses completely.
Before Banon’s announcement, polls showed voters were evenly split about whether Strauss-Kahn, 62, should try to revive a career that until recently had him on track to take on conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy in the race to be France’s next leader.
“DSK Back?” the left-leaning daily Liberation asked on its front page Monday.
Some politicians and pundits see Strauss-Kahn, who won plaudits for his stewardship of the International Monetary Fund, as a victim of overzealous American prosecutors and journalists who denied him the presumption of innocence when a maid accused him of forcing her to perform oral sex in his Manhattan hotel room.
“He was crushed, then, by that fraction of the American judicial apparatus that, by putting Dominique Strauss-Kahn in stocks, by humiliating him before the entire world, by ruthlessly pursuing him, has probably ruined his life,” celebrity philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy wrote on The Daily Beast website.
Others have expressed disgust with allegations that the Socialist politician routinely subjected women to crude sexual advances, and lived a luxurious lifestyle out of touch with ordinary French people, even in the glare of press attention in New York.
“Between his luxury tastes and other subjects, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has not offered a very positive image recently,” Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno, a Sarkozy ally, said on Europe-1 radio.
Strauss-Kahn has been living under house arrest in a $50,000-a-month town house in the trendy TriBeCa neighborhood. Once released, Strauss-Kahn had dinner at a pricey Manhattan restaurant.
“To see Strauss-Kahn freed then straight away eat in a luxury restaurant with friends, that makes me sick,” Banon told the magazine L’Express in an account published Monday. “I only want one thing, that he comes back to France, with his presumption of innocence, so that we can go before a court.”
Banon, 31, said on a 2007 television show that she had been attacked five years earlier by a politician she had interviewed for a book in his apartment. She later identified the man as Strauss-Kahn.
“It finished very violently,” she said on the television show. “I kicked him. He opened my bra. He tried to undo my jeans. It finished very badly.”
Lawyer David Koubbi said Banon had been dissuaded from filing charges by her mother, a regional councilor in Strauss-Kahn’s Socialist party. Her mother, Anne Mansouret, admitted in a French television interview in May that she had urged her daughter not to file a complaint after the incident.
Banon came forward again after Strauss-Kahn’s May 14 arrest in New York, but Koubbi said his client had no intention of pressing charges while the American prosecution was going on because the two cases should be kept separate.
Banon is now moving forward, Koubbi told The Associated Press.