Prosecutors in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case are likely weeks away from making a decision on whether to proceed to trial or drop the charges, and they are building a suspect profile gleaned from evidence from other women who claimed they were attacked or had consensual encounters with the former International Monetary Fund boss.
The profile will allow investigators to compare the pattern of Strauss-Kahn's behavior elsewhere with the evidence in the case of a luxury-hotel maid who alleges she was assaulted in May as they try to reconcile concerns about the maid's credibility. Last week the prosecutors talked with the lawyer for Tristane Banon, a French journalist who alleges Strauss-Kahn attempted to rape her in 2003, a charge his lawyers deny and call defamation. New York prosecutors have begun the process of asking French authorities to let her speak to New York investigators—a process that is not legally required but that would give the woman and her lawyer political cover in her home country, where the DSK case is a media rage.
Sources close to the investigation also tell Newsweek that as early as this week prosecutors plan to re-interview the alleged victim, Nafissatou Diallo, 32, a Guinean immigrant who worked as a housekeeper at the Sofitel hotel in New York, as they try to reconcile questions about her credibility, her background, and evidence at the scene.
Diallo broke her silence in an exclusive interview with Newsweek published Monday, in which she described the alleged attack and expressed her frustration at the media portrayals of her as a gold-digging victim or even a part-time prostitute, which she emphatically denied.
Prosecutors still trust that the forensic evidence from inside the luxury suite in the Sofitel where he alleged attack occurred on May 14 shows a sexual encounter, and they remain generally confident in the story Diallo told to her housekeeping supervisors, hotel security, hospital personnel, and detectives during the first 24 hours. But prosecutors harbor deep suspicions about Diallo's credibility after they and her lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, in June uncovered inconsistencies and outright lies about her past. Among them: she lied on her asylum application, made up a compelling story about a gang rape that did not happen, filed a false tax return claiming someone else's child as her own, and provided false information on an application to qualify for low-income housing.
The prosecution team has “no idea what it is going to do yet,” a person close to the case says. The investigators are “treating it like any other case that runs into these problems, and that means gathering all the evidence.”
Prosecutors make no apologies for seeking an indictment within five days of Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, saying the forensic evidence and original testimony of Diallo supported the decision to proceed quickly. They also had worries that Strauss-Kahn might flee, recalling a 1991 case in which an Egyptian worker on the U.N. secretary-general’s staff fled the country before he could be charged in a chambermaid’s sexual assault..
Immediately after the indictment was secured and long before the public knew of the problems with Diallo’s past, prosecutors began digging around in her financial records and interviewing friends, looking for any evidence of extortion or criminal activity. The review found ties to shady acquaintances and suspicious transactions, to be sure, but no evidence of a premeditated plot against Strauss-Kahn. Prosecutors disclosed in late June that they had uncovered serious problems with the maid's credibility, especially involving issues not directly involving the attack.
The New York Times reported in July 1 editions that prosecutors had obtained a tape of a phone conversation between Diallo and an illegal immigrant incarcerated in Arizona in which the subject of Strauss-Kahn's wealth came up. But sources close to the investigation told Newsweek the conversation was conducted in the maid's native Fulani tongue and the leak occurred before prosecutors even had a full transcript of the call. The quote in the newspaper—suggesting Diallo discussed DSK’s wealth and then said she knew what she was doing—was instantly taken in the court of public opinion as evidence she had a financial motive. But the quote was a paraphrase from a translator’s summary of the tape, not the actual transcript, and the actual words are somewhat different, sources told Newsweek.
Given the climate of suspicion that developed around her, Diallo’s last four encounters with authorities, on June 8, 9, 20, and 28, were difficult sessions, as prosecutors grilled her like a defendant. The tensions have at times been heightened because the interviews were conducted in Fulani, requiring translations that have raised additional disagreements. The mistrust between prosecutors and Diallo’s lawyers boiled over on July 1 when Thompson, her lawyer, held a news conference in front of the courthouse and accused the district attorney of abandoning Diallo.
Since then, both sides have tried to smooth matters over. Thompson has signaled a willingness to let his client be interviewed again if prosecutors let her see a transcript of the disputed prison call, and that is something prosecutors say they are willing to do. But the distrust and tensions could be renewed again after prosecutors learn of Diallo’s decision to go public after weeks of remaining in protective custody.
Diallo makes about $25 an hour, according to her union, and with tips earns between $40,000 and $60,000 a year.
The New York hotel workers’ union has strongly supported her, and has also begun a review of how often frisky clients at hotels have grabbed, groped, or harassed housekeepers or offered them money in an effort to lure sexual favors.
“It happens a lot more frequently than I thought, until recently,” says Peter Ward, head of the union, who has talked with dozens of housekeepers recently about untoward behavior by clients. “I think what’s happened is this has become a case about what is happening in hotels in general, not just in New York but everywhere.”
Ward’s union is working on a program to train housekeepers in self-defense and arming them with alarms in case attacks happen in the future.