NEW YORK — Lawyers for Dominique Strauss-Kahn met with prosecutors Wednesday for what the defence called a productive discussion, but there was no immediate word on what would happen to the sexual assault case that has been threatened by doubts about the accuser’s credibility.
The two sides met privately for about 90 minutes in Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s offices, but participants were tight-lipped about the exchange, which came five days after prosecutors said the accuser had not been truthful about her background and the aftermath of the alleged attack.
Lawyers for the former leader of the International Monetary Fund called the session with Vance and assistant prosecutors “constructive.” Vance’s office said only that it was continuing to investigate and that no decisions had been made about the case’s future.
Hours later, the woman’s lawyer asked Vance to appoint a special prosecutor to take over the matter, citing questions about the way prosecutors have treated the accuser.
In a letter, Kenneth Thompson said he believes the DA’s office is behind media reports that the 32-year-old woman referred to Strauss-Kahn’s wealth in a recorded telephone call to an incarcerated friend. Thompson said he wants to ensure her rights “are not further prejudiced by deliberate acts seeking to undermine her credibility.”
A Vance spokeswoman said the request was baseless and mischaracterized the work of prosecutors.
Wednesday’s discussion in Vance’s office came amid intensifying public debate over the allegations, with a police fraternal group and others pressing prosecutors not to drop the matter. Strauss-Kahn was represented by Benjamin Brafman and William W. Taylor III.
Private meetings between prosecutors and defence attorneys are not unusual, but the stakes in the Strauss-Kahn case are especially high.
The defence has said it wants an outright dismissal, insisting that the encounter with a Manhattan hotel maid was not forced. Prosecutors must decide whether to forge ahead with a flawed case, seek a face-saving plea deal or cut their losses — a decision fraught with political peril for Vance.
Meanwhile, Strauss-Kahn, who was a leading presidential contender in France before his arrest, faces a July 13 deadline to register in the Socialist Party primary. That’s just five days before his next court date. It’s unclear whether he might be able to enter the race later and what French voters would think if he did. Recent polls in France have shown people divided over any potential return to politics.
Some legal experts have said the allegations would be difficult, if not impossible, for prosecutors to prove because the accuser’s history of fabrications could make a jury reluctant to believe her. Vance’s office says it did the appropriate thing at every stage.
On Wednesday, members of the police fraternal organization 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care urged Vance’s office to go ahead with the prosecution, noting that there was physical and other evidence to support it. Group founder Noel Leader said he recalled Vance meeting with his organization when he was running for DA.
“This is not the Cy Vance we thought we were getting, the one who said he would prosecute fairly across the board,” he said. “This is a female immigrant victim of humble means. We have to question whether there’s issues of race, gender and economic status involved here.”
The group also wants to see a special prosecutor appointed, he said.
In Paris, the prosecutor’s office said Wednesday it had received a criminal complaint accusing Strauss-Kahn of attempting to rape a writer eight years ago.
He denies the latest allegation. His French lawyers have called the writer’s account “imaginary” and say they plan to file a complaint accusing her of slander.
Just a few weeks ago, the New York case looked destined to be a long legal fight.
Strauss-Kahn was accused of chasing down the hotel housekeeper in his luxury suite, forcing her to perform oral sex and yanking down her pantyhose. Her version of the May 14 events was unwavering, and police and prosecutors called her credible.
Prosecutors have not publicly questioned her account of the encounter itself, but they appear to have lost faith in the accuser’s prospects of helping them prove it.
After the case developed, the maid acknowledged she had lied to prosecutors about being gang-raped in Guinea and had not given a grand jury an accurate account of what she did immediately after the alleged attack. She initially described running into a hall and waiting until a supervisor arrived. Prosecutors now say she went on cleaning rooms before reporting the matter to a supervisor.
They said they also found she had cheated on taxes, including claiming someone else’s child as her own.
In addition, prosecutors said, she alluded to Strauss-Kahn’s wealth when talking to a friend who was locked up, and that other people had deposited tens of thousands of dollars in her bank account — money she said she knew little about but authorities suspect may be tied to drug dealing, another law enforcement official has said.
Thompson, her attorney, has said she’s made mistakes in her life but is not involved in drug dealing and is telling the truth about her encounter with Strauss-Kahn.
The apparent breakdown in the relationship between the DA’s office and the accuser creates another potentially complicating factor in pursuing the case.
Normally, sex crime victims keep a low profile and work closely with prosecutors, forming a bond needed if the case goes to trial and the victim must testify. But the disclosures about the maid — and her lawyer’s open criticism of Vance — have created a potentially insurmountable breach of trust.
In Paris, the official receipt of the complaint from novelist Tristane Banon means prosecutors must now decide whether there is enough evidence to charge Strauss-Kahn in France.
Banon says Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her in an empty apartment during an interview for a book project, struggling with her on the floor as he tried to tear off her clothes.
Her complaint faces a series of difficult tests in the French justice system and could be dismissed long before reaching trial. Prosecutors must decide first if her allegations would support a charge of attempted rape rather than the less serious crime of sexual aggression, an attack that does not involve an attempt to penetrate the victim.
Strauss-Kahn is free, though he can’t leave the United States. He’s due back in a New York court July 18.