one’s surprise, tomorrow the Manhattan District Attorney’s office will officially drop the sexual assault and forcible sodomy charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The prosecutors’ reasons for the decision, as
, make for a very tough commentary on the character of Nafissatou Diallo, the Guinean hotel maid who originally got into this country by falsely claiming she had been gang raped in her home country (emphases are mine):
That’s really remarkable. What we’re being told is that Diallo is such a liar that even when her lies were exposed, she would not admit she had lied, but blamed the lies on someone else. Which meant the prosecutors realized it was impossible to get on the same page with her about anything. They could not trust her or work with her, period. Offhand I can’t think of a similar high-profile case, in which the victim is so unreliable that the case had to be thrown out.
August 22, 2011
Strauss-Kahn Case Is Said to Be Set for Dismissal
By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM, JOHN ELIGON and JIM DWYER
Three months after authorizing Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s swift indictment after his arrest on sexual assault charges, the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., has decided to ask a judge to dismiss the case, a person briefed on the matter said on Sunday.
Mr. Vance’s decision will end one of the most closely watched prosecutions in New York in decades with no determination on whether the encounter between Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who was then the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and a hotel housekeeper who went to clean his suite was criminal or consensual, several law enforcement officials have said.
While there has been widespread speculation that Mr. Vance would drop the case, it is nonetheless an extraordinary turn of events, for both Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 62, an enormously powerful international banker and a leading candidate for the French presidency before his arrest, and his accuser, Nafissatou Diallo, a 33-year-old immigrant from Guinea.
Her credibility as a witness began to crumble after prosecutors discovered what they characterized as a series of lies she had told, though none bore directly on her version of the encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn.
Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who was led out of a police building in handcuffs in May and held under house arrest until his bail conditions were relaxed last month, would be free to return to France after a judge, responding to a motion from the district attorney, formally dismissed the seven-count indictment.
The outcome would leave Ms. Diallo with no recourse to pursue criminal charges against the Frenchman. But she has filed a civil lawsuit seeking unspecified monetary damages from Mr. Strauss-Kahn for what the suit called a “violent and sadistic attack” that humiliated and degraded her.
Mr. Vance’s office has readied a motion known as a dismissal on recommendation, which one person briefed on the matter said would detail the reasons he and his aides believe that the case cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Mr. Vance’s decision in the highly charged case, which ultimately became a credibility contest of sorts between Ms. Diallo and Mr. Strauss-Kahn, was said to have grown out of prosecutors’ assessment that her repeated lies, including multiple denials that she had given any consideration to Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s money, would open her to withering cross-examination. A day after the encounter, she and a friend who was in jail had a recorded telephone conversation about Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s wealth, a fact that the investigators would not learn until six weeks later, after Ms. Diallo had been asked repeatedly about the subject.
She is the only witness who could testify to the central allegation in the case: that Mr. Strauss-Kahn forced her to perform oral sex.
One law enforcement official involved in the investigation said no single problematic detail about Ms. Diallo’s background, or even all of them put together, had undermined the prosecution’s faith in its ability to present a viable case. Indeed, the official noted, it is common for witnesses and complainants who testify to be vulnerable to attacks on their credibility, either because their accounts have varied, or because they have self-interested motives for giving evidence, like avoiding jail or, occasionally, winning civil settlements.
In the Strauss-Kahn case, the official said, prosecutors came to believe that Ms. Diallo seemed unwilling to take responsibility for telling the truth.
“We deal with witnesses with these kinds of problems every day,” the official said. “With her, we had to drag the details of the lies out of her over weeks. It might have been different if she had let all the air out in a day or two. Every time she was confronted with her lies, she would blame someone else—someone told her to say this for asylum, someone else took advantage of her bank accounts, someone else did the taxes.”
Besides their legal and ethical responsibilities to disclose Ms. Diallo’s untruths, members of the prosecution team could have been called in a criminal trial to testify about her untrue statements to them—possibly transforming prosecutors into witnesses for the defense.
Asking a jury to believe Ms. Diallo beyond a reasonable doubt had become untenable, according to a senior official involved in the case.
“We couldn’t tell the jury that she kept lying to us but that they should believe her,” the senior official said.
But Mr. Vance’s decision will probably draw fire on several fronts, including from black leaders and women’s groups who have urged him to allow a jury to weigh the facts and render a decision.
Ms. Diallo’s lawyer, Kenneth P. Thompson, acknowledged that his client may have credibility issues, but he said that other evidence weighed the case in her favor, including other hotel workers who saw Ms. Diallo in a distraught state shortly after she said she was attacked.
“You must also consider the overwhelming physical evidence that Mr. Vance and his prosecutors pointed to just weeks ago,” Mr. Thompson said. “Forensic evidence does not lie.” Even one of the controversial phone conversations with her friend in jail corroborated her account of the attack, Mr. Thompson said. Ms. Diallo described the assault to her friend just as she had the previous day to detectives and prosecutors, according to Mr. Thompson.
Law enforcement officials have said, however, that though the forensic evidence in the case shows that a sexual encounter occurred, it does not prove that it was forcible.
Some critics have contended that Mr. Vance’s office is to blame for some of the problems that arose in the case. They pointed to the prosecutors’ decision, shortly after Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, to reject an agreement under which Mr. Strauss-Kahn would be freed on bail—a decision that forced them to move swiftly to seek an indictment from a grand jury rather than take more time to investigate details of the case.
The more deliberative course, these critics say, would have given prosecutors a chance to learn more about the housekeeper and perhaps avoid their early pronouncements that she was a powerful and “unwavering” witness.
Since Mr. Strauss-Kahn was taken into custody hours after the May 14 incident at the Sofitel New York, the case has played out in an almost carnival-like atmosphere, with legions of representatives of foreign news outlets camped out in front of the courthouse in Lower Manhattan. The drama has dominated the headlines in France, where his arrest and star turn in handcuffs before the cameras sparked outrage.
From his first court hearing, Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers indicated that a sexual encounter did take place in the suite but suggested that whatever occurred was consensual.
Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a leading figure in the Socialist Party who stepped down from his post at the I.M.F. because of his arrest, was charged with attempted rape, sexual abuse, criminal sexual act, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching.
Prosecutors were initially successful in getting a judge to order him held without bail, saying their case was strong and corroborated by physical evidence. They also said the housekeeper had given a compelling and unwavering account of what happened inside the hotel room.
A State Supreme Court justice eventually granted Mr. Strauss-Kahn bail on $1 million cash and $5 million bond. But he was held under extraordinary conditions in which he remained under house arrest in a town house in TriBeCa, monitored by an armed guard. He could leave the town house only under limited circumstances.
Those bail restrictions were lifted in a stunning reversal by prosecutors on July 1, about six weeks after the encounter.
At a court hearing, the district attorney’s office revealed that it had uncovered several facts damaging to the housekeeper’s credibility. Ms. Diallo had lied in her asylum application to immigration authorities and falsely told prosecutors she had been gang raped in her native country, according to a letter filed by prosecutors. She also was untruthful in her tax returns, the letter said.
Another area was not aired in court, but was discussed with Ms. Diallo’s lawyer before then. On June 29, when prosecutors’ confidence in Ms. Diallo had already eroded, they received summary translations of phone conversations that she had with a man in immigration detention on May 15, the day after her encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn. By then, Ms. Diallo had told the authorities on several occasions that she had never given consideration to possible compensation from a man as wealthy as Mr. Strauss-Kahn.
On the night of June 30, Mr. Thompson said that he was called by Mr. Vance’s chief assistant, Daniel R. Alonso, and was informed that the case had serious problems, specifying the phone conversation with the man in detention.
Mr. Thompson indicated that Mr. Alonso “stated the victim said ‘words to the effect’ that ‘this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing.’ “
Mr. Thompson has vehemently disputed the prosecutors’ interpretation of the recorded conversation, in which the two spoke in Fulani, a language of Guinea.
Later, when he listened to the tape with a translator, Mr. Thompson said the prosecutors had mischaracterized its contents. The district attorney’s office later had several translations from Fulani prepared, and these produced different texts that covered the same subject. The official involved in the investigation said there could be “no question as to the substance of the conversation.”
While prosecutors might have wanted Ms. Diallo to hold off on filing a civil suit, they had no objection to her seeking damages for injuries she might have suffered at the hands of Mr. Strauss-Kahn. But the phone call, the official said, signified another episode of Ms. Diallo’s not being forthright.
During the month of June, as it became apparent to prosecutors that the case was crumbling, lawyers for Ms. Diallo and Mr. Strauss-Kahn, had some discussions about a payment that would settle any civil claims, and presumably also protect Mr. Strauss-Kahn from criminal prosecution.
In late July, in a rare move for a woman who said she was sexually assaulted, Ms. Diallo went public, giving interviews to Newsweek magazine and ABC News.