Prosecutors are meeting with Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers Wednesday for an update on the case as they weigh whether to drop the charges because of credibility issues with the victim, according to a source close to the investigation.
The source, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, described the meeting as “routine” in a case that has already taken many unexpected twists and turns. Prosecutors are expected to decide before Strauss-Kahn’s next court appearance later this month whether to proceed with the prosecution after disclosing the luxury hotel maid who accused Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault fibbed to authorities about her background.
Meanwhile, the federal government signaled Tuesday it could inject itself into the Strauss-Kahn sexual-assault case, saying it can remove from the country any person found to have fraudulently obtained asylum in the United States.
The statement came just days after the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office disclosed that the luxury-hotel maid who accused Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault admitted to them that she had lied years ago on her application for U.S. asylum from her homeland in Guinea.
The high-profile case has sparked concern among immigration attorneys and advocates, who fear a backlash against asylum seekers because of the new revelations.
Asked by Newsweek and The Daily Beast whether it would pursue the evidence made public by New York prosecutors, the Homeland Security Department’s Customs and Immigration Enforcement agency said Tuesday in a statement: “While ICE cannot discuss asylum issues, generally, anyone who obtains immigration relief via fraud is potentially subject to removal.”
Intervention by the U.S. government would be the latest twist in the sensational case, which saw New York prosecutors rapidly indict Strauss-Kahn on sex-assault charges that forced his resignation as head of the International Monetary Fund, only to uncover evidence that cast doubt on the maid’s credibility.
“If what’s reported in the news is true, she is at grave risk of having her case reopened,” says Lavi Soloway, a prominent immigration attorney, adding that felony convictions resulting from the recent revelations could make deportation more likely. “I don’t think that the DSK case is the last chapter for this woman—if these allegations are true.”
In a letter to Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys last week that was entered into the public court record, prosecutors for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance disclosed that the maid admitted she originally entered the United States in January 2004 with a “fraudulent visa” and later falsified information on her Dec. 30, 2004, application for asylum, which was granted.
Under penalty of perjury, the woman claimed in a written statement attached to her application that “she and her husband had been persecuted and harassed by the dictatorial regime that was then in power in Guinea,” the prosecutors wrote. “Among other things, the complainant stated that the home that she shared with her husband was destroyed by police and soldiers acting on behalf of the regime, and that she and her husband were beaten by them.”
“In her statement, she attributed the beatings to the couple's opposition to the regime. She stated that during her husband's incarceration, he was tortured, deprived of medical treatment, and eventually died as a result of his maltreatment. Following his death, according to her, she began to denounce the regime and finally fled the country in fear of her life,” the prosecutors’ letter recounted.
The prosecutors said the maid, facing questioning about her background in the Strauss-Kahn case, ultimately acknowledged she “fabricated the statement with the assistance of a male who provided her with a cassette recording of the facts contained in the statement that she eventually submitted. She memorized these facts by listening to the recording repeatedly. In several interviews with prosecutors, she reiterated these falsehoods when questioned about her history and background, and stated that she did so in order to remain consistent with the statement that she had submitted as part of her application.”
The woman’s attorney, Kenneth Thompson, did not immediately return a call to his office for comment Tuesday. But in a press conference Friday, Thompson reportedly acknowledged his client may have hyped her claims in the asylum application.
Soloway worries that the attention surrounding the case could make things more difficult for future asylum applicants. “Individual judges and individual asylum officers are not insulated from the daily news. They read the newspapers too. They see that the DSK accuser is alleged to have won asylum with a false story. It makes officers more skeptical,” he says. “It’s very unfortunate, because those who are telling the truth may have a more difficult time.”
Asylum fraud is a growing concern among U.S. officials, who have warned for years that criminal elements or terrorists might try to sneak people into the country using sympathetic claims of repression as a basis for asylum.
Last year, federal authorities convicted a Somali man in San Diego who had been in the U.S. for more than a decade after ascertaining he had hidden a past criminal record and gave vastly different accounts of persecution when trying to obtain asylum in Canada and the U.S.
Also last year the FBI and ICE obtained a 40-month prison sentence for a Pennsylvania man convicted of bogus asylum claims for as many 380 people between 2003 and 2007.
In 2009 a federal jury convicted a suburban Washington, D.C., lawyer of charges of fabricating asylum applications for immigrants trying to stay in the United States. Prosecutors alleged the man coached clients from West Africa on how to make false but sympathetic claims for asylum.
Shortly after the September 11 attacks, a top FBI counterterrorism official told Congress that authorities had evidence that an Algerian connected to terrorism had tried to enter North America on a bogus asylum claim.