Investigative report about ‘what really happened’ to Strauss-Kahn sets French political world afire

November 27, 2011

Edward Jay Epstein’s report, “What Really Happened to Dominque Strauss-Kahn,” published in The New York Review of Books this weekend, has the set the French political world afire, renewing speculation that Strauss-Kahn’s arrest for raping a chambermaid was part of a conspiracy to take him out of the running for the 2012 presidential race.

Supporters of the former International Monetary Fund chief Sunday called for an investigation into claims in the report that French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party may have accessed Strauss-Kahn’s private e-mail. Sarkozy’s allies, meanwhile, came out in force to denounce the report’s findings. In an interview with French television, the country’s interior minister Claude Gueant called it “pure fantasy, while the head of Sarkozy’s party, the UMP, dismissed the story as “ridiculous” and the “plot argument grotesque.” Accor, the French hotel company that owns the Sofitel hotel in Manhattan where the attack allegedly took place, released a detailed point-by-point rebuttal.

Epstein’s 4,000-plus-word forensic report is a tick-tock of what happened at the hotel shortly before and after the alleged attack. (Prosecutors later dismissed all charges against Strauss-Kahn, saying that the alleged victim, Nafissatou Diallo, had repeatedly lied to them.) In researching the story, Epstein, an investigative journalist, had access to a trove of electronic information that has not been made public before: “Sofitel electronic key swipe records, time-stamped security camera videotapes, and records for a cell phone used on the day of May 14 by John Sheehan, a security employee of Accor, the company that owns the Sofitel hotel,” according to the report.

Here are some of the most controversial details in Epstein’s report and responses from Accor when given:

The missing Blackberry: DSK’s BlackBerry, with its messages, is still missing. Investigations by both the police and private investigators retained by DSK’s lawyers failed to find it. While DSK believed he had left it in the Sofitel, the records obtained from BlackBerry show that the missing phone’s GPS circuitry was disabled at 12:51 p.m. This stopped the phone from sending out signals identifying its location. Apart from the possibility of an accident, for a phone to be disabled in this way, according to a forensic expert, required technical knowledge about how the BlackBerry worked.

From electronic information that became available to investigators in November 2011, it appears the phone never left the Sofitel. If it was innocently lost, whoever found it never used it, raising the question of by whom and why it was disabled at 12:51 p.m.

VIP Suite 2820: “[T]he hotel belatedly provided [prosecutors] with the electronic key records showing that Diallo had entered room 2820 at 12:26 p.m., after her encounter with DSK. The same record also showed that she had also entered room 2820 prior to her encounter with DSK at a time when the occupant had not checked out and may have been in the room. Why she concealed visiting 2820 was “inexplicable” to the prosecutors, who noted in their motion for dismissal that if she had mentioned her visits to 2820, it would have been declared part of the crime scene and searched by the police. But she did not do so.”

Accor said that the occupant of room 2820 had checked out before Diallo cleaned his room and she returns to pick up her cleaning cart.

Delay in calling the police and medical services: “One vexing mystery concerns the one-hour time gap in reporting the alleged attack on Diallo. After she said that she had been the victim of a brutal and sustained sexual assault, it is hard to understand how the security staff would have ruled out that she might require immediate medical attention. But as has been seen, until 1:31 p.m., several minutes after receiving a message from Sheehan, the security staff did not make the 911 call. She did not arrive at St. Luke’s Hospital until 3:57 p.m., nearly four hours after the alleged attack. We do not know what decisions were made during that one-hour interval or how they influenced what was to later unfold with such dramatic impact.”

Celebratory dance: Shortly after a hotel employee called 911 to report the alleged crime, the hotel’s head of engineering and an unidentified man “high-five each other, clap their hands, and do what looks like an extraordinary dance of celebration that lasts for three minutes.”

Accor said the dancing “in fact lasted eight seconds, with both employees filmed on CCTV categorically denying that their exchange had any connection whatsoever with Mr. Strauss-Kahn”.

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