In the months after one of its housekeepers alleged Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted her when she went to clean his room, the luxury Sofitel Hotel in New York City kept a low public profile.
Behind the scenes it cooperated with prosecutors, the alleged victim, and DSK’s defense, complying with subpoenas to provide documents, security-card records, and even security-video footage. But publicly, it chose to say little, hoping to maintain a neutral position in a white-hot international scandal.
But all that changed Sunday when the Sofitel’s parent company issued a statement excoriating a journal article that suggested the hotel, its employees, or maybe even a guest on the same floor where the May 14 incident occurred might be involved in a conspiracy to set up the powerful French politician. The article is “inaccurate and speculative,” the hotel declared.
The New York Review of Books reported that the Sofitel’s security chief John Sheehan made a call to a mystery Frenchman shortly before the hotel reported the alleged attack on its housekeeper to the police, and that an employee and an "unidentified man" were caught on security-video footage celebrating and dancing for about three minutes after they brought the housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo down to the area where she eventually met the police.
The journal also reported that on the morning of the alleged incident DSK had gotten a warning from an individual in France that his BlackBerry device may have been compromised. Furthermore, the device mysteriously disappeared and stop transmitting its location about a half hour after he left the hotel, never to be found again.
The Review also raised questions about a guest in a room near Strauss-Kahn’s suite, where the maid had swiped her security door card three times the morning of the attack. NYRB said the Sofitel was refusing to identify the guest so he could be questioned by DSK.
Though the Manhattan district attorney’s office in August decided to drop the sexual assault and attempted rape charges it filed back in May, Strauss-Kahn is still trying to fend off a civil suit filed by Diallo.
In a statement issued Sunday by its French-based parent Accor Group, the Sofitel sharply criticized the NYRB article as “inaccurate and speculative” and noted it had “has cooperated with law enforcement authorities for the entirety of this case as was its civic and legal obligation.’
The Sofitel specifically challenged the article’s assertion that two of its employees were caught on video celebrating for three minutes. “In fact, the incident in question lasted only 8 seconds and both employees categorically deny this exchange had anything to do with Mr. Strauss-Kahn,” the hotel’s statement said.
A source familiar with the hotel's evidence, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Beast that all security-video footage was reviewed again this weekend and that two employees were questioned in connection with the Review article. The two employees said they couldn’t recall the exact reason for their fleeting celebratory behavior but that they believed it may have involved sports, which they frequently talked about, the source said.
The Sofitel also challenged the assertion that on the morning of the alleged attack a guest in Room 2820, located around the corner from Strauss-Kahn’s suite, had anything to do with incident between Strauss-Kahn and the housekeeper.
The Daily Beast reported this summer that Diallo used her housekeeping security card to access the room four times at around 10:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 11:30 a.m. and again around 12:26 p.m., shortly after she claimed she was attacked by DSK.
In an exclusive interview with Newsweek, Diallo explained the first two times she keyed the room, the guest was still present and asked for more time to check out. The third time, she said, she went in and cleaned the room before proceeding to Strauss-Kahn’s suite around 12:06 p.m. She alleges she was brutally attacked after entering DSK’s suite. Diallo said she returned to Room 2820 briefly after the incident to pick up her cleaning gear.
The hotel said the guest in Room 2820 couldn’t have been involved because he checked out before the alleged incident and left the hotel.
“The hotel’s digital history indicates the guest checked out of this room at 11:36 a.m. with the housekeeper cleaning the room shortly thereafter,” the hotel statement said. “Again, the innuendo that the guest in Room 2820 was involved in the incident is false and utterly baseless.”
The source familiar with the evidence told The Daily Beast the guest is a French businessman who was visiting New York.
The source also described a phone call to the 646 area code of New York that Sheehan, the Sofitel’s security chief, made shortly after 1 p.m. that was raised in the Review. At the time, the Sofitel was still interviewing Diallo about what happened and trying to calm her, and did not report the attack to police until 1:30 p.m., about an hour after the maid first reported the alleged attack.
Sheehan was off from work because it was Saturday but when he got a call from his office explaining the report of the attack, Sheehan headed for the office. On his way there, he called his immediate supervisor in Accor security to let him know there was an incident, as was the hotel’s protocol, the source said.