Questions about accuser leave Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case in limbo

Attorneys for Dominique Strauss-Kahn will ask a court to reduce the conditions of his bail after New York City prosecutors raised serious concerns about the hotel chambermaid who accused the former International Monetary Fund managing director of sexual assault, according to a person familiar with the case.

Strauss-Kahn may be freed from house arrest Friday after attorneys for both sides requested an unexpected late-morning hearing in State Supreme Court. Prosecutors are expected to tell the court that they have found information that raises questions about the chambermaid’s credibility, the person said.

The New York Times reported Thursday night that the prosecution’s case against Strauss-Kahn was breaking down. A spokeswoman for Benjamin Brafman, an attorney for Strauss-Kahn, declined to comment. A spokesman for the New York City district attorney said there would be no comment before Friday’s hearing.

Under relaxed bail conditions agreed to by the prosecution, Strauss-Kahn is expected to be allowed to travel freely in the United States but not abroad. He has been confined to an apartment in Manhattan while awaiting trial. The arrangement has cost him $250,000 per month.

Prosecutors, who had expressed confidence in their case and said they had physical evidence proving that Strauss-Kahn had sexual contact with the woman, now have serious doubts about what the chambermaid told them, according to the person familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the confidential matter.

Strauss-Kahn, who led the IMF through the global financial crisis and was a potential candidate for president in France, has always maintained his innocence.

Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in May and subsequent resignation have had a global impact. His alleged encounter with the maid, a 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea, upended French politics, threw global economic negotiations into disarray and seemed to cause one of history’s more spectacular political downfalls.

After Friday’s hearing, both the prosecution and defense will consider their next steps.

A separate law enforcement official who is familiar with the case but not authorized to speak about it publicly told the Associated Press that the issue was not necessarily about the rape accusation itself but about questions surrounding the alleged victim’s background that could damage her credibility on the witness stand. The official refused to elaborate.

Prosecutors are questioning the woman’s asylum application with U.S. immigration authorities as well as her possible connections to a convicted drug dealer, the Times said.

The chambermaid had a telephone discussion with a convicted drug dealer within a day of the alleged assault and discussed the possible benefits of filing charges against Strauss-Kahn, according to the Times.

Prosecutors have found that the woman received $100,000 in cash payments in her bank accounts in recent years from the drug dealer and others. They also found she maintained multiple bank accounts.

Kenneth Thompson, an attorney for the alleged victim, could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

In a May 25 letter to New York City District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys complained about information, detrimental to their client, being leaked to the media.

“Were we intent on improperly feeding the media frenzy, we could now release substantial information that in our view would seriously undermine the quality of this prosecution and also gravely undermine the credibility of the complainant in this case,” they wrote.

Prosecutors may still try to charge Strauss-Kahn with a misdemeanor, but his attorneys are expected to oppose that, the person familiar with the case said.

At the IMF, staff were stunned by the charges, at once absorbing the notion that an accused sex offender had occupied the agency’s executive suite and defending the IMF against allegations that it was an uncomfortable place for female employees.

The IMF board also faced questions over whether it erred in deciding to keep Strauss-Kahn in office two years ago after he admitted to an affair with a staff member.

His resignation from the IMF touched off a global competition to name a successor as candidates crisscrossed the globe lobbying for support.

As Strauss-Kahn sat in a New York prison and prosecutors spoke authoritatively about the strength of their case, heads of state and finance ministers debated whether the job should be given to another European or someone from a developing nation.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde was appointed this week and will start work Tuesday.

The case roiled French politics as well. Strauss-Kahn was considered a strong candidate for the French presidency and was expected to pursue the nomination of the Socialist Party. His supporters have said Strauss-Kahn was being set up.

He and his wife, Anne Sinclair, were among a European elite whose connections included some of the world’s leading philosophers, writers and artists.

Staff writer Brady Dennis contributed to this report.

Zachary A. Goldfarb is a staff writer covering the White House, focusing on President Obama’s economic, financial and fiscal policy.
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