Dominique Strauss-Kahn looked considerably better leaving a Manhattan courthouse Tuesday than he did three months ago when he first arrived in police custody, tired and disheveled, to face charges that he tried to rape a hotel housekeeper.
This time the French political leader was smiling, even looking like he had lost a few pounds, in a dark-blue suit and striped tie. His wife and legal team were also all smiling: Strauss-Kahn was a free man and, as he later told French reporters, “in a hurry to get home.”
A New York state judge had just granted prosecutors’ request to dismiss all the charges and denied his accuser’s bid to have a special prosecutor appointed, a ruling that an appeals court backed. The Manhattan district attorney’s office had asked for the dismissal after losing faith in the credibility of Nafissatou Diallo, the immigrant from West Africa who they said lied to them repeatedly both about her past and about certain facts surrounding the case.
Strauss-Kahn still faces a civil lawsuit filed by Diallo seeking unspecified damages. He also faces a French writer’s allegation that he tried to rape her in 2003. But the sensational criminal case that could have put the former head of the International Monetary Fund in an American prison for up to 15 years is over.
After the hearing, Benjamin Brafman, an attorney for Strauss-Kahn, called it an “extraordinary event” for prosecutors to stand up in court and admit that they no longer had a solid case.
“Unless you have been falsely accused of a very serious crime that you did not commit, it is impossible for you to understand or grasp the full measure of relief that Dominique Strauss-Kahn feels today,” he said. “This is a horrific nightmare that he and his family have lived through.”
Diallo lawyer Kenneth Thompson, meanwhile, repeated his accusations that prosecutors had a double standard because of Strauss-Kahn’s wealth and power.
“If Dominique Strauss-Kahn was a bus driver from the South Bronx, do you think prosecutors would have cared about inconsistencies in her stories?” he said. “We are disappointed ... that [Manhattan Dist. Atty.] Cyrus Vance would deny her day in court.”
During the 13-minute hearing, Assistant Dist. Atty. Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said, “We did not arrive at nor do we take decisions to recommend dismissal in this or in any cases lightly.” But after “collective deliberation, we determined we must take the course of action we are doing today.”
She said prosecutors were guided by a requirement to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Illuzzi-Orbon said that “whatever the truth” about the encounter between Strauss-Kahn and Diallo — it lasted less than 15 minutes — there was not enough evidence to show that it was forcible, and that a jury would have to rely on the credibility of the accuser to condemn the defendant.
Illuzzi-Orbon said the biggest problem with going forward was that Diallo “was untruthful with us during virtually every substantive interview, despite our repeated entreaties to her to be truthful, about matters great and small.”
Most damaging, Illuzzi-Orbon said, was that over the course of two interviews, the accuser gave a “vivid, highly detailed and convincing account of having been raped in her native country which she now admits was false.”
After Illuzzi-Orbon’s explanation, William Taylor III, Strauss-Kahn’s other attorney, stood and told Judge Michael Obus, “We do not oppose the motion.”
Obus said there would be “others who have different views, to say the least,” but that he believed the prosecutor’s motion was made in good faith. “I see no basis to deny” the application for dismissal, Obus said before banging his gavel.
Thompson sat in the front row, grimacing, and walked out immediately after the hearing.
Vance scheduled a news conference to praise his staff and explain why their decision was right “both ethically and legally.”
But just as he began reading a statement, an earthquake hit, shaking the conference room, and the building was evacuated.
The earthquake, centered in Virginia, also forced government offices to close for the day, which meant Strauss-Kahn — once considered a front-runner to be the next president of France — could not retrieve his passport until Wednesday.