By Ed Pilkingon in New York and Angelkique Chrisafis in Paris, The Guardian – April 27, 2012
The former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has accused political enemies linked to Nicolas Sarkozy and his ruling UMP party of destroying his bid for the French presidency by choreographing the scandal that erupted last year when he was accused of assaulting a New York hotel maid.
In an exclusive interview published by the Guardian, Strauss-Kahn stated that he believes the highly public undoing that followed his encounter with the housekeeper in the Sofitel hotel’s presidential suite, and his imprisonment on charges of attempted rape, were orchestrated by his political opponents.
While he does not believe the incident with Nafissatou Diallo was a setup, he said the subsequent escalation of the events on 14 May into a criminal investigation that destroyed his chances of winning the presidency had been “shaped by those with a political agenda” and that “more was involved here than mere coincidence”.
Strauss-Kahn, 63, alleges that he was put under surveillance by French intelligence weeks before he was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting Diallo. He accuses operatives linked to Sarkozy of intercepting phone calls and making sure Diallo went to the New York police, thus sparking an international scandal.
“Perhaps I was politically naive, but I simply did not believe that they would go that far … I didn’t think they could find anything that could stop me,” Strauss-Kahn told investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein.
Epstein’s ebook on his investigation of the scandal, Three Days in May, is published by Melville House on Monday.
Strauss-Kahn’s accusations come at a highly sensitive moment in French politics, days before the final round of the presidential election, which until his downfall last year he had been tipped to win.
The vote will be held on 6 May, with polls showing the Socialist François Hollande beating the rightwing incumbent Sarkozy.
At the time of his arrest on 14 May last year, Strauss-Kahn was polling ahead of Hollande for the Socialist nomination, for which he planned to declare the following month, and was in the lead against Sarkozy for the presidency itself. He had no doubts, he told Epstein, that he would take occupancy of the Elysée Palace.
Strauss-Kahn’s allegations are based on his own studies over the past 11 months – aided by a private detective service, Guidepost Solutions – of the Sofitel’s CCTV footage, electronic key card and mobile phone records. The intensity of his research shows the extent of his belief that he was the victim of dirty tricks – though his critics would dismiss it as paranoia.
Strauss-Kahn remains in considerable difficulty over his sexual history. All charges against him were dropped by New York prosecutors in August 2011 after they found Diallo to be an unreliable witness, and he has consistently portrayed the encounter with her as consensual.
But Diallo continues to press her claim for damages in the civil courts, alleging that she was attacked by him as she went about her housekeeping duties. A judge in Manhattan is due to rule on Tuesday on whether or not Strauss-Kahn can claim diplomatic immunity in the case.
The scandal has also put the spotlight on Strauss-Kahn’s lifestyle and attitude to women. In text messages sent to associates who participated in sex parties he attended – one of which was held in Washington just a day before he went to the Sofitel – he reportedly referred to women as “material”.
The Sofitel incident has severely dented Strauss-Kahn’s reputation in France, where he remains in total retreat from the political scene. When he returned to Paris after the charges were dropped, polls showed the majority of the country did not want him to return to politics.
Feminist groups led street protests about sexism in French society, furious at the language some French figures had used to describe the Strauss-Kahn case. His recent appearances at public events in Cambridge in the UK, and Brussels have been marked by protests from women’s rights activists.
Sarkozy, who had been key in appointing Strauss-Kahn to the IMF, has repeatedly used his name to attack the Socialists. In a recent rally at Cyr-sur-Loire, he said: “I won’t take lessons on morality, particularly not from a part of the left that wanted to put Mr Strauss-Kahn in the Elysée.”
Last month, Strauss-Kahn’s troubles deepened further when he was charged with “aggravated procurement in an organised gang” – the legal term for pimping – in relation to his alleged involvement in a prostitution ring. The case centres on allegations that his business associates organised prostitution at the Carlton hotel in Lille. He declined to talk to Epstein about the new allegations, saying he was under legal restrictions.
Strauss-Kahn’s direct accusation that he was a victim of a trap are based on a complicated web of factors. He says that long before the Sofitel events, he became convinced that he was being tracked by French intelligence.
On the morning of the Sofitel incident, he told Epstein, he received a text message on the BlackBerry he used for IMF work and personal emails from a friend in Paris. She warned him that his communications were being intercepted and that an email he had sent to his wife, Anne Sinclair, had been discovered by a sympathiser inside the UMP party headquarters in Paris.
Such were his fears, he went to the length of encrypting all his seven phones to scramble his messages, though he removed the software shortly before the Sofitel events after he found that all the devices began to stop working. “I took the threat seriously,” he said.
He also emphasised to Epstein a celebratory dance performed by a couple of Sofitel employees that was caught on the hotel’s CCTV footage soon after Diallo made a 911 call to New York police leading to Strauss-Kahn’s arrest. It is not known why the men were rejoicing, though Strauss-Kahn said he did not believe the “victory dance was a coincidence”.
The Sofitel said: “We have co-operated fully with authorities and have no further comment at this time.”