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Prosecutors drop rape case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn

New York prosecutors filed a motion to drop all charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, abruptly ending the sensational criminal case in which a housekeeper accused the powerful Frenchman of trying to rape her in a hotel suite, only to see her credibility damaged after she lied repeatedly to investigators.

But clear-cut vindication eluded all the parties involved in the tawdry, he-said-she-said case, which made headlines around the globe.

To their embarrassment, prosecutors were forced to acknowledge that a case they initially said was “very strong” dissolved after they lost confidence in the accuser, Nafissatou Diallo, a 32-year-old native of Guinea, in West Africa.

Photos: Dominique Strauss-Kahn

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Cyrus Vance Jr., the recently elected Manhattan district attorney, has been criticized for allowing Diallo to testify before a grand jury before the case was thoroughly investigated.

Although Strauss-Kahn, once considered a favorite for the French presidency next year, apparently will avoid a criminal trial in the United States, the lasting impact on his reputation remains unclear.

The French political elite and media have suggested he could pick up where he left off. Whether ordinary French voters will be so forgiving is another matter; polls suggest Strauss-Kahn’s image has suffered lasting damage.

“He’s someone who now makes people a little afraid,” Jerome Sainte-Marie, deputy director of the Paris-based polling company CSA, said Monday.

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Strauss-Kahn, 62, was forced to step down as director of the International Monetary Fund after his arrest. Until then he had been a popular left-of-center politician who was respected as a brilliant economist with a promising future in French politics. But he has long been dogged by accusations of relentless womanizing and, after Diallo’s claims surfaced, was sued by a young French writer who accused him of attempting to rape her in 2003.

Strauss-Kahn also faces a civil suit by Diallo, a claim that has largely been portrayed in France as an attempt to cash in.

He is scheduled to be in court Tuesday, when a Manhattan judge is expected to dismiss the charges. His lawyers issued a statement Monday saying he was “grateful” that the district attorney’s office took his concerns about Diallo’s credibility seriously, adding, “We look forward to attending the hearing Tuesday.”

The scene was chaotic Monday afternoon outside the district attorney’s office when Diallo and her attorney met briefly with prosecutors, who told them they were abandoning her case. Diallo’s supporters and an army of journalists were hovering outside.

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“The nature and number of the complainant’s falsehoods leave us unable to credit her version of events beyond a reasonable doubt, whatever the truth may be about the encounter between the complainant and the defendant,” the motion states. “If we do not believe her beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot ask a jury to do so.”

Among those falsehoods was that she had been gang-raped by soldiers in Guinea.

Prosecutors said that at one point when she was confronted with untruths, “she dropped to the floor and physically rolled around while weeping” before saying she did not know the answer to their questions.

Even her insistence that no one could “buy” her, and that she had no interest in earning money off the case, was greeted with suspicion by prosecutors.

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“The complainant had a recorded conversation with her incarcerated fiance, in which the potential for financial recovery in relation to the May 14, 2011, incident was mentioned,” the document says. “Although there is nothing wrong with seeking recovery from a defendant in a civil suit, the complainant’s disavowal of any financial interest is relevant to her credibility.”

Mark Geragos, a prominent Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer, said that had the case gone to trial, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, would have grilled Diallo about making a prior rape assertion, but he also would have questioned the district attorney’s investigators about why they believed her tearful account.

“Ben would have to be in a coma not to destroy [Diallo] in cross-examination,” said Geragos, who has worked on cases with Brafman. “The prosecutors should be congratulated for doing an investigation, but at the same time they bear fault for this because they vouched for her so fast.”

Diallo’s lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, has repeatedly lashed out at Vance, questioning both his and his investigators’ integrity.

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Thompson filed a request with the New York State Supreme Court to have Vance removed from the case, claiming he botched the investigation and treated Diallo unfairly. Thompson asked to have a special prosecutor pursue criminal charges.

While Thompson visibly seethed Monday after emerging from the meeting with prosecutors, his client appeared calm as she stood silently by his side — and protesters noisily demanded justice on her behalf.

“Cyrus Vance must go!” the protesters yelled.

“No means non-consent,” read a sign held by a woman.

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Thompson, for his part, has been criticized for not granting prosecutors full access to Diallo and for having her grant interviews while the investigation was underway. He has maintained that although Diallo might have made misstatements, she never veered from her initial account of what happened between her and Strauss-Kahn about noon on May 14 in a suite at the Sofitel Hotel.

Diallo told several hotel employees and then police that as she was about to clean the suite, Strauss-Kahn emerged naked from a bathroom and in less than 15 minutes yanked off her stockings, held her captive and forced her to perform oral sex.

Police immediately pursued Strauss-Kahn, taking him into custody that afternoon on a Paris-bound airplane about to leave John F. Kennedy International Airport. He was held without bail for a few days because prosecutors feared he would attempt to flee to France, which has no extradition agreement with the United States. Within a week of his arrest, prosecutors presented Diallo’s testimony before a grand jury, which almost immediately indicted Strauss-Kahn on seven criminal counts of sexual assault.

But more than six weeks later, when Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest and strict bail conditions were lifted, prosecutors told a judge they were having doubts about Diallo’s version of events.

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Diallo’s future is uncertain. Although her lawyer has vowed to press both civil and criminal claims, prosecutors say she has lied repeatedly under oath and on immigration forms. Previously, her union and the hotel have said she could have her job back as soon as the Strauss-Kahn matter was resolved.

Photos: Dominique Strauss-Kahn

geraldine.baum@latimes.com

tina.susman@latimes.com

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Special correspondent Kim Willsher in Paris contributed to this report.


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