article

07.09.11

DSK Affair's Missing 62 Minutes

More than an hour elapsed between the time Dominique Strauss-Kahn's accuser told hotel staff about the alleged attack and the time they contacted authorities, reports Edward Jay Epstein.

According to my reckoning, the sexual encounter between Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his accuser, a hotel chambermaid, in the Presidential Suite of the Sofitel Hotel ended no later than 12:12 p.m. on May 14, 2011. The maid gave conflicting accounts of what happened in the next 16 minutes. She first testified under oath to a grand jury on May 18 that she hid in the 28th floor's main hallway until she saw DSK leave the Presidential Suite (which could be no later than 12:26 p.m.), and, once she saw him get on the elevator, immediately reported the sexual assault to her supervisor.

But as investigators determined from records of the use of her electronic key that the story could not be true, and that she had actually gone to suite 2820, she changed her story to say that after leaving the Presidential Suite she went to 2820, a suite on the other side of the elevator bank that she had visited three times previously that day, according to the electronic-key records. (When I asked Jorge Tito, the hotel’s general manager, who was in 2820 on May 14, he declined to comment.) In any case, as the key records show, the accuser returned to the Presidential Suite after about two minutes and immediately informed her supervisor that she had been the victim of a crime, which means the hotel staff was alerted no later than 12:30 p.m. Yet, according to police records, no one at the hotel called the police until 1:32 p.m.

That leaves a 62-minute gap between the time the hotel management found out about the attempted-rape allegation and when it reported it to U.S. law enforcement. Since the hotel management knew, or could have known, that the accused assailant had left the hotel (12:29 p.m., according to security cameras) and might fly to France (which has no extradition treaty), every minute it delayed reporting the alleged crime to the police could be construed as aiding and abetting his escape, if such delay were indeed purposeful.

But DSK was no ordinary guest. He was considered to be so important by the Sofitel that he was regularly given the Presidential Suite with more than a $2,000-per-night discount. The suite was appropriate, since he had a good chance of defeating Nicolas Sarkozy in the upcoming French presidential election. And the owners of the Sofitel, the Accor Group in Paris, were, as a large corporation, no doubt interested in the outcome of French elections. So when, and if, a call was made to police alleging sexual assault by DSK, it would ineluctably set in motion a chain of events that could have consequences.

That leaves a 62-minute gap between the time the hotel management found out about the attempted-rape allegation and when it reported it to U.S. law enforcement.

So what happened during the 62-minute interlude? We know that the accuser, a 32-year-old maid from Guinea-Bissau, did not initially call the police (or even her supervisor). And now that she was in the hands of hotel officials, two very different options were available.

First, as is often done in altercations between hotel employees and guests, hotel officials could attempt to dissuade her from pressing charges. This might not have been difficult if, as an immigrant, she had concerns about her vulnerability to the scrutiny of her green-card application and her financial records. She was also concerned about keeping her job, from statements she had made to her supervisor. If the hotel chose to pursue this option, it could have called DSK and attempted to arrange a settlement that did not involve police.

On the other hand, hotel officials could attempt to persuade her to overcome her initial reluctance about going to the authorities, even offering her job security and legal assistance. Such a course of action would likely lead to the immediate arrest of DSK and end his bid to be president of France.

Before making such a momentous decision, hotel officials might have decided to consult other concerned parties. A call, for example, might have been made to the French Consulate or Embassy. (DSK, after all, was a former minister and head of the IMF.) If so, word likely would have quickly reached the Elysée Palace or its DCRI intelligence service. Or a call might have been made to superiors at the Accor Group in Paris. If so, the information may have also reached the Elysée Palace. The French newsweekly Le Nouvel Observateur reported this week that suspicions were circulating that someone from the Accor Group at some point alerted Ange Mancini, Sarkozy’s Karl Rove-like coordinator of information in the Elysée. A spokesman for the Accor Group called this report baseless. (The Sofitel executives I queried declined to comment on any calls made.) So we do not know who, if anyone, was consulted by the accuser’s handlers at the Sofitel during the 62-minute gap.

The person in a position to answer this intriguing question is Cyrus Vance Jr., since any intervention might constitute at minimum an obstruction of justice. As Manhattan D.A., he can question everyone at the Sofitel who was directly or indirectly involved with the accuser’s decision, including anyone in suite 2820 (where the accuser made four visits before and after her encounter with DSK). Vance also has the power to subpoena these individuals' cell-phone, email, and text-message records, as well as the hotel’s Internet and phone-service records, to determine who called who between 12:30 and 1:32 p.m. Indeed, it is incumbent on him to do so to determine if a crime was committed during these 62 minutes.