Sarkozy party denies plot to ruin Strauss-Kahn
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's party on Sunday rejected as "grotesque" suggestions that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was brought down by an elaborate plot to wreck his presidential ambitions.
"This story is ridiculous ... this plot argument is grotesque," said UMP party leader Jean-Francois Cope, while Interior Minister Claude Gueant dismissed the allegations as "pure fantasy."
The remarks came after a New York Review of Books article that included hints by associates of the disgraced ex-IMF chief that his arrest on sexual assault charges in New York on May 14 might have been a set-up.
Strauss-Kahn, then tipped to beat Sarkozy in France's 2012 presidential elections, was taken off a plane to Paris that afternoon after maid Nafissatou Diallo said he had attacked her in a posh Manhattan hotel.
Strauss-Kahn resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund IMF as a result of the scandal.
The charges were later dropped after prosecutors said Diallo lied about details of her allegations, but they and subsequent claims of sexual misconduct in France were enough to end Strauss-Kahn's political ambitions.
The author of the New York Review of Books story, Edward Epstein, told AFP on Saturday: "I didn't say it was a political conspiracy but I would say that people wanted to find evidence of an indiscretion of his that could derail either his (French presidential) candidacy or even (his work at) the IMF."
One of the politician's lawyers, William Taylor, said Strauss-Kahn may have been "the target of a deliberate effort to destroy him as a political force."
The New York Review of Books article quotes sources saying Strauss-Kahn suspected a smartphone that disappeared just before his arrest had been hacked.
It also describes camera footage showing an employee of the Sofitel hotel, where the sexual encounter was alleged to have taken place in Strauss-Kahn's room, high-fiving a colleague and appearing to perform a celebratory dance after listening to Diallo's testimony.
The article has rekindled speculation that began shortly after his arrest about a plot to undermine the Socialist politician, whose wife Anne Sinclair is a multi-millionaire art heiress and celebrity journalist.
But Interior Minister Gueant said Sunday: "I would say that it's pure fantasy."
"I read Epstein's article. What does it say? That DSK (Strauss-Kahn) lost his phone. It's not because one loses one's phone that there is a setup," he told French media.
UMP leader Cope said that "we will not fall into the trap of pursuing this story which has nothing to do with politics," adding that conspiracy theories were always abundant in the run-up to elections.
Cope said Saturday that "to imagine that what happened to Strauss-Kahn was the object of some sort of collusion by the UMP is stretching things a lot."
The Sofitel hotel group meanwhile issued a statement Sunday that admitted that two of its employees congratulated each other after the incident but said this was unconnected.
"The article ... affirms that two Sofitel employees were filmed by hotel surveillance cameras 'rejoicing' for three minutes," it said.
"In reality, these facts lasted eight seconds, and there is no evidence of a 'celebratory dance'," it said, adding that the two employees "categorically denied this exchange had any link whatsoever with Mr. Strauss-Kahn."
The statement did not say what the men where rejoicing over. A spokeswoman for Accor, the company that owns the Sofitel groups, told AFP she was also unable to say what the cause of the celebration was.
Epstein also wrote that hotel records showed that Diallo visited another bedroom on the same floor as Strauss-Kahn's suite, shortly before the sexual encounter took place and immediately after.
Epstein asks who might have been in that room and why Diallo went there.
Sofitel, which has not identified the room's occupant, said Sunday that "the insinuation that the customer occupying room 2028 was involved in the incident is false and without substance."
Strauss-Kahn, who does does not deny a sexual act took place in the Sofitel suite but insists it was consensual, said Sunday he had no comment to make on Epstein's article.
An association of Strauss-Kahn supporters, the DSK Club, said Sunday that the Paris prosecutor's office should follow up Epstein's investigation to see if there was any truth in the conspiracy theory.
© 2011 AFP