Sarkozy party rejects idea of Strauss-Kahn conspiracy

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy's party rejected Sunday as "grotesque" suggestions that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was the victim of a plot to ruin 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 an article in the New York Review of Books that included hints by associates of the disgraced ex-International Monetary Fund 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 IMF as a result of the scandal.

The charges were 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 New York Review of Books article by investigative journalist Edward Epstein quotes sources saying that 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 television.

UMP leader Cope said that "we will not fall into this trap of pursuing this story which has nothing to do with politics," adding 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 in reaction to Epstein's article.

"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."

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 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."

Strauss-Kahn said Sunday he had no comment to make on Epstein's article.

© 2011 AFP

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