With NY Case In Doubt, Strauss-Kahn Faces Attempted Rape Charges In France

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French writer Tristane Banon walks with her lawyer David Koubbi as they leave his office in Paris in this May 17, 2011 file photo. (Charles Platiau / Reuters)

Just as the legal outlook for ex-International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn started looking brighter in the U.S. with news prosecutors’ case against him for sexual assault may  not get to a court, DSK’s horizon seriously darkened back in France. On Monday, as various signs accumulated suggesting his political career in France may well be kaput even if he escapes trial in New York, media reports revealed a French woman who says Strauss-Kahn attacked her in 2002 will be filing rape charges against him in Paris Tuesday.

With the U.S. off on the July 4 holiday, it way probably fitting that the newest legal development for Strauss-Kahn materialized in France, where, a lawyer for author and journalist Tristane Banon said she’d be filing charges against DSK for attempted rape Tuesday. Banon has repeatedly said she narrowly escaped a sexual attack by Strauss-Kahn during an interview with him in 2002. She held off filing charges against Strauss-Kahn at that time at the urging of her mother, a fellow Socialist Party politician who feared what an attempted rape accusation would do to Strauss-Kahn’s rising political career—as well as her own. In the wake of DSK’s May 14 arrest in New York for attempted rape charges, however, Banon’s mother publicly expressed regret for having dissuaded her daughter from filing suit, and denounced Strauss-Kahn as a sexual predator. Despite the timing of his announcement, Banon’s lawyer, David Koubbi, says the decision to press charges is unrelated to reports last Friday indicating the prosecution case against DSK in New York is on the point of collapse.

Ironically, New York prosecutors had only recently recruited a French lawyer to begin seeking the support of women in France—or elsewhere—claiming to have been victims of sexual attack by Strauss-Kahn. Just as ironically, Banon responded to such solicitations by saying she wouldn’t be party to the American legal proceedings. Still, she was an obvious potential partner for U.S. attorneys to start with.

Despite her decision not to take her complaint to the police earlier, Banon’s repeated recounting of the assault—including a television discussion in which she described the unidentified political attacker as “a chimpanzee in heat”—brought it to the attention of Socialist Party leaders, French politicians of all stripes, and many members of the media in France. Indeed, it was because no one had reacted much to that information—nor to other stories of DSK’s aggressive behavior towards women he was attracted to—that questions were posed whether politicians and journalists hadn’t been complicit in a silence that essentially covered Strauss-Kahn’s actions up to the stunning news he’d been arrested for attempted rape in New York May 14.

Still, Koubbi’s announcement Monday doesn’t necessarily mean DSK will face a trial in France if he manages to escape the one that seemed likely for him in New York. First off, Koubbi has claimed his client would lodge charges for months now—though that has never happened. Attempts to get direct confirmation from Banon about her intent in the case have thus far been unsuccessful. Even if Banon does file a complaint Tuesday, meanwhile, a French trial for Strauss-Kahn is far from automatic.

An attempted rape complaint would be transferred to state prosecutors, who would decide whether the allegations and any evidence supporting them merit opening an investigation. Given the attention and controversy surrounding DSK’s sexual record, it’s more than likely an inquiry would be opened no matter how damning Banon’s initial complaint seems or not. Based on the findings of that investigation, justice officials would decide whether there’s sufficient evidence to take the case to court, or whether it should be dropped. Unlike New York prosecutors, that decision would be made on the basis of whether evidence and testimony indicates a crime had been attempted or committed, not on their views of how likely winning a conviction might be.

Even in a French legal context, the eventuality of an attempted rape trial for DSK involves lots of “ifs”. However, should Banon file suit, those same question marks will suffice to definitively quash the reborn hopes of Strauss-Kahn backers that he might be able to resolve his New York legal woes in time to make the 2012 presidential run polls long showed him favored to win. As we noted in early June, though many political experts in France believed Strauss-Kahn could feasibly return to a discreet role in domestic politics if he could manage to escape conviction or de facto avowal of sexual assault, they said his presidential ambitions received a fatal blow from the revelations of his troubling behavior that surfaced in the wake of his arrest. And as we suggested last Friday, his presidential ambitions didn’t look any more likely to be miraculously reanimated by the imploding prosecution case against him in New York–despite a rising chorus of media reports and optimistic comments from his Socialist supporters suggesting DSK might able to make a 2012 bid after all.

Talk of a come-back campaign will definitively be hung with funereal wreaths if Banon indeed files her complaint Tuesday—thereby making the proposition of a presidential run under the cloud of a pending rape inquiry a non-starter. But that would merely be the coup de grace to Elysée dreams of DSK supporters that had begun looking even more doubtful even before Koubbi’s announcement. In addition to the obvious personal questions from hostile political rivals and troubled voters alike that Strauss-Kahn might not relish facing as part of a presidential bid, new polling information suggests him going through such agony would probably be in vain to begin with. A survey released Monday showed 51% of people believe DSK no longer has a role to play in domestic politics, compared to 42% who said he did. Another poll asking respondents whether they wanted Strauss-Kahn to return to politics found 49% replying “yes”, and 45% saying “no”.

Meanwhile, that decidedly mixed picture is set to grow darker for Strauss-Kahn as the week goes on. On Monday morning, Laurent Joffrin, editor of the news weekly Nouvel Observateur told France Info radio that his magazine had completed a poll uncovering serious skepticism about Strauss-Kahn’s credibility as a presidential candidate. Though Joffrin wouldn’t say exactly how the poll’s question was posed, or what the actual numbers returned were, he did say its finding “is not good news” for supporters still claiming a cleared DSK could still run for and win the presidency. And even that was before the news Banon was set to file suit Tuesday—which itself could embolden other women and lawyers in France who claim they have similar complaints against Strauss-Kahn that they’ve sat on for years.