As One Alleged Strauss-Kahn Rape Case Cools Off, Another Heats Up

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Writer Tristane Banon walks with her lawyer David Koubbi as they leave his office in Paris July 5, 2011. (Photo: Philippe Wojazer - Reuters)

The legal travails of Dominique Strauss-Kahn seem to get messier as the days go by. As noted in our story yesterday, even as Strauss-Kahn’s troubles in New York seem to have dissipated with the prosecution’s case against him appearing to crumble, new charges of criminal sexual misconduct have surfaced back in Paris. On Tuesday, the lawyer for 32 year-old author Tristane Banon said he had filed attempted rape charges against DSK for an attack that allegedly took place 10 years ago as Banon interviewed Strauss-Kahn for a book project. Within hours of that announcement, French attorneys for Strauss-Kahn said they’d file charges of their own against Banon for what amounts to making libelous false accusations. To make things even more confusing, both Banon and her lawyer now say the year the assault by Strauss-Kahn took place was actually later than the one they both cited previously in detailing the purported attack.

There are at least two commonalities shared by respective attempted rape allegations in New York and Paris. In addition to the she-accused-it-he-denied-it nature of the claims and counter-charges, both have involved hyperbolic statements by attorneys that have at times tested even the most credulous observers. On the one hand, Banon’s counsel David Koubbi flatly denies the timing of his move Tuesday to file suit on a decade-old accusation had nothing to do with the apparent implosion of the New York case against DSK—the alleged rape charges in which motivated Banon to speak up about her own story following Strauss-Kahn’s May 14 arrest. On the other hand, Strauss-Kahn’s French lawyers issued a statement Monday night stressing the new Koubbi-Banon “complaint comes quite conveniently right at the moment when there is no longer the slightest doubt about the false nature of the accusations against him in the United States.” Those italics are added to note the statement they contain is factually inexact—read “false.” The New York case has been undermined by doubts about the victim’s honesty in several areas of her life—though virtually none directly relating to her accusations of attempted rape and sexual assault. Quite clearly, verbal antes are clearly being upped on both sides of the Atlantic in what remains very high stakes legal action.

But it’s also action on claims that seem to get hazier as the actors speak about them more. And Banon and Koubbi, too, are partially culpable in adding to the confusion. As our story yesterday noted (indeed, like all coverage of Banon’s allegations prior to Koubbi’s July 4 announcement of his intent to file charges today), the year both had previously and repeatedly cited in dating DSK’s alleged attack on the author was 2002.  This includes a 2007 appearance by Banon on a popular TV chat show, in which she recounted the actions of a famous politician she said when met with in 2002 and who acted “like a chimpanzee in heat”—a man she identified twice as Strauss-Kahn, but whose name was bleeped out by producers. Now, both Koubbi and Banon are fixing that date as Feb. 2003—an alteration DSK’s defenders are likely to jump on. The reason: Koubbi and Banon have repeatedly provided precise details and spoken of hard material evidence they say they have to substantiate their accusations. Changing something as crucial as the year of the assault this late in the game is bound to raise pointed question. Meanwhile, a switch to a later date also has potentially important legal significance: while the statute of limitations on sexual assault is only three years, it’s a full 10 for attempted rape. Yet even a 10-year statute of limitations wouldn’t cover the crime Banon describes in 2002; it does had it taken place in 2003. Neither Banon or Koubbi have explained the change of dates.

None of that suggests Banon’s story isn’t truthful — nor, by contrast, calls into doubt the determination of Strauss-Kahn and his lawyers to prove it isn’t. It does, however, point out the messiness and second-guessing likely to arise as the French case advances, and areas of it are examined and challenged. For a preview of the main aspects that will be carefully picked over — and for translated excepts of a new interview Banon gave to the weekly l’Express — check out William Saletan’s very interesting story on Slate.