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At the 2115 Café on Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem, where the hotel chambermaid who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of criminal sexual assault used to spend much of her free time, there are some interesting pictures on the wall. One shows owner Ibrahim “Abe” Fofanah, 46, gripping and grinning with a police captain. Another shows him with New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
But pride of place goes to the photograph of Fofanah and Alpha Condé, who was elected last November as president of Guinea, the country from which DSK’s accuser immigrated and requested political asylum. Condé, as it turns out, also has extensive ties to major political players in France, including people close to—wait for it—both President Nicolas Sarkozy and Strauss-Kahn, who had been expected to be the incumbent’s main challenger in next year’s elections. You can see why the conspiracy-minded French find the case so fascinating.
The May 15 arrest of DSK and his subsequent resignation from his powerful position as director of the International Monetary Fund seemed to end his presidential prospects. That was such a lucky break for the very unpopular Sarkozy that many French people found the story incredible to the point of implausibility. Some 57 percent, when polled soon after the arrest, said they thought somebody (the poll didn’t ask who) had set up DSK.
NYPD detectives initially ordered the arrest of Strauss-Kahn as he was about to leave JFK airport on a flight to Paris because the accuser’s testimony and corroborating accounts gave them probable cause to believe he had committed a serious crime. The charges included criminal sexual assault and attempted rape, and DNA evidence of sexual contact between the accuser and Strauss-Kahn supported the case. Initially, the police did not conduct extensive interviews of the accuser’s close associates in the African community. But the cops did not stop investigating once DSK was arraigned.
“You want to check everything – everything,” said a law enforcement source familiar with the case who is not authorized to talk on the record. “You have to know if you are going to have something that will hold up in court.” Probable cause is not enough for a jury to convict; guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. “If the further investigation shows that you don’t have that kind of proof,” said the same source, “then you want to show that the NYPD was doing its job.”
So, according to this source, more detectives were assigned to look at the accuser’s possible criminal associations. Strauss-Kahn had hired TD International, an international investigating and troubleshooting firm with extensive CIA connections, to dig into the accuser’s background and connections. But the NYPD appears to have turned up the most damaging information first.
As The Daily Beast’s John Solomon confirmed earlier this morning, there were inconsistencies in the accuser’s asylum application when she came to the United States, unusual financial transactions into her personal accounts, and she had contacts with an incarcerated drug suspect. The day after she allegedly suffered the Strauss-Kahn assault, she was recorded talking to the suspect in jail about the possibility of getting money by proceeding with the charges against Strauss-Kahn. According to The New York Times, which first reported the concerns of prosecutors Thursday night, the woman had five different phones and had received as much as $100,000 into her accounts in the last two years from the man in prison and others, although those were not thought to be linked in any way to the DSK case.
While the accuser’s ties to these alleged criminal elements did raise serious doubts, law enforcement sources say they have not come across anything to suggest a premeditated conspiracy.
The links of 2115 Café owner Fofanah to the accuser were self-proclaimed almost from the beginning. Fofanah is a successful entrepreneur and an indefatigable self-promoter who initially made money running a courier service that served the garment district and subsequently opened the café precisely to make it a social center for the West African community in New York, which is thought to number at least 60,000.
Just two days after Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, Fofanah and the restaurant manager, Blake Diallo, held a press conference on Frederick Douglass Boulevard to vouch for the woman’s character. She was a simple mother, they said, just trying to raise her teenage daughter in peace. Diallo described himself then as her brother, but later said that was just a manner of speaking; in fact he was just a friend. She is from Guinea and Blake Diallo is from Senegal, but both are from the large Fulla ethnic group, which spans several West African countries. It was Diallo who got the accuser her first lawyer, Jeffrey Shapiro. “He found him on the Internet,” said Fofanah. “He’s now off the case.” The accuser has been represented since last month by the more high-powered firm of Thompson-Wigdor.
Over a long lunch of okra and rice with Fofanah and Diallo at the 2115 last month, they continued to express their support for the woman, but with a certain reserve. “We don’t know the details,” said Fofanah, “but the message the community is sending is that we stand with her until all the facts are out.” When I reached Fofanah by phone early this morning, he said he had heard about the new developments in the case but said, “I don’t know anything about it.”