Strauss-Kahn could see charges dropped this week

21st August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Three months after his shocking arrest on sex assault charges, fallen French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn could learn his fate as soon as Monday, as speculation builds over the case's dismissal.

In the latest twist in a saga that sent shockwaves through France, the lawyer for the hotel maid who has accused Strauss-Kahn of forcing her into oral sex said Saturday that all or some of the charges may be dropped.

Kenneth Thompson, who represents 32-year-old Guinean immigrant Nafissatou Diallo, made his statement after prosecutors scheduled a new meeting with his client for Monday, the eve of the next court hearing.

"My interpretation of that letter is that they're going to announce that theyre dismissing the case entirely, or some of the charges," Thompson told The New York Times, referring to a letter he received from prosecutors.

"If they were not going to dismiss the charges," he added, "there would be no need to meet with her. They would just go to court the next day to say, 'We're going to proceed with the case.'"

Another attorney for Diallo, Douglas Wigdor, confirmed the meeting to AFP but declined to speculate on the outcome.

He said Thompson would accompany Diallo to the meeting, and described the letter from prosecutors as "very negative and disparaging."

Strauss-Kahn, who quit as head of the International Monetary Fund after his arrest, has pleaded not guilty and is free on bail.

His attorneys have said the charges should be dropped so he can return to France, where until recently he was seen as a frontrunner for the presidency.

Tuesday's hearing in New York state court will be the first since city prosecutors announced they had serious doubts about Diallo's credibility.

In the run-up to the hearing before Judge Michael Obus, the District Attorney's Office insisted the investigation into the allegedly brutal May 14 attack in the Manhattan Sofitel was ongoing.

However, expectations have been growing that the DA may be forced to drop what was originally presented as a strong case against Strauss-Kahn.

The first blow to prosecutors was the revelation that Diallo lied to immigration officials on her asylum application about a gang rape she said took place in her West African homeland.

That was seen as making her an easy target for Strauss-Kahn's attorneys when she took the stand in a trial that would in large part come down to her word against that of Strauss-Kahn.

On Friday, reports in The Wall Street Journal and the online Daily Beast quoted unnamed sources saying that Thompson had negotiated weeks ago with Strauss-Kahn's side about dropping the charges in exchange for a cash payoff.

The reports were not confirmed but added to the cloud hanging over prosecutors, who in court would have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Amid a slew of negative media coverage about Diallo -- including so-far unproven allegations that she discussed with a friend the possibility of making money from Strauss-Kahn -- she and Thompson launched a media blitz in late July.

The offensive, including print and TV interviews with Diallo and a press conference at a big African American church in New York, went some way to resurrecting her public image.

However, it is very unusual for complainants in sex crime cases to go public and legal experts say that Diallo's multiple statements regarding her allegations could make her even more vulnerable on the witness stand.

In a further indication that her lawyer thinks the criminal trial will not take place, Diallo filed a civil suit seeking damages against Strauss-Kahn.

This could give defense lawyers even more ammunition in a criminal trial, as they would likely argue that the maid's relative haste to file a civil suit shows she is only interested in getting compensation.

Prosecutors could possibly ask the judge for more time to investigate the allegations against the 62-year-old Strauss-Kahn. They could also do this before Tuesday via a letter to the court.

But unless there is a postponement, two main options remain for Tuesday: prosecutors telling the judge they plan to go ahead with the case, or prosecutors moving to dismiss charges.

For District Attorney Cy Vance, who initially was bullish about the prosecution, neither option looks easy.

"The DA's office will do whatever's in the future political interests of Cy Vance," said prominent defense lawyer Ron Kuby. "They certainly haven't done a great job so far."

The prosecution case is not necessarily irreparable, but the odds now favor Strauss-Kahn, Kuby added.

"The defense has done remarkably little and they've done it brilliantly," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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