Did The Black Maid Lie? Rape Case Against Kahn May Collapse

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NEW YORK — Prosecutors have serious questions about the credibility of a hotel housekeeper who has accused former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn of raping her, and they are taking the extraordinary step of seeking a substantial reduction in his pricey bail, a person familiar with the case said Thursday.

The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters not yet made public in court, told The Associated Press that prosecutors have raised issues about the accuser’s credibility in the case against Strauss-Kahn, but would not elaborate on what those issues were.

A separate law enforcement official who is familiar with the case, but not authorized to speak about it publicly, told the AP that the issue was not necessarily about the rape accusation itself, but about troubling questions surrounding the alleged victim’s background that could damage her credibility on the witness stand. The official refused to elaborate.

The New York Police Department, which investigated the case, declined comment. The woman’s lawyer did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Strauss-Kahn, who faces a court hearing Friday, has been under armed guard in a Manhattan townhouse after posting a total of $6 million in cash bail and bond. He denies the allegations.

Prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney’s office had argued against his release in May, citing the violent nature of the alleged offenses and saying his wealth and international connections would make it easy for him to flee.

“The proof against him is substantial. It is continuing to grow every day as the investigation continues,” Assistant District Attorney John “Artie” McConnell told the judge. “We have a man who, by his own conduct in this case, has shown a propensity for impulsive criminal conduct.”

The New York Times first reported that investigators uncovered major inconsistencies in the woman’s account of her background, citing two law enforcement officials. One of the officials told the Times that the woman has repeatedly lied since making the initial allegation May 14.

The discoveries include issues stemming from the asylum application of the 32-year-old woman, who is from Guinea, and possible links to criminal activities such as drug dealing and money laundering, one of the officials told the newspaper. The Times reported that senior prosecutors and Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers are discussing whether to dismiss the felony charges against him.

Another person familiar with the case, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason, said earlier Thursday that Strauss-Kahn may get his pricey bail and house arrest arrangement eased in the case at Friday’s court hearing. The person declined to detail what the new bail arrangements might be.

Strauss-Kahn lawyer William W. Taylor would say only that the hearing was to review the bail plan. The district attorney’s office declined to comment.

If the case against Strauss-Kahn collapses, it could once again shake up the race for the French presidency. Strauss-Kahn, a prominent Socialist, had been seen as a leading potential contender and challenger to conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy for next year’s elections — until the New York hotel incident embarrassed Strauss-Kahn’s party and left him in the political wilderness.

Socialist Party chief Martine Aubry announced her own presidential bid this week, after having long been expected to throw her weight behind a Strauss-Kahn candidacy.

New doubts about Strauss-Kahn’s accuser would also revive speculation of a conspiracy against Strauss-Kahn aimed at torpedoing his presidential chances. Within days of his arrest, a poll suggested that a majority of French think Strauss-Kahn — who long had a reputation as a womanizer and was nicknamed “the great seducer” — was the victim of a plot.

Strauss-Kahn was held without bail for nearly a week after his May arrest. His lawyers ultimately persuaded a judge to release him by agreeing to extensive — and expensive — conditions, including an ankle monitor, surveillance cameras and armed guards. He can leave for only for court, weekly religious services and visits to doctors and his lawyers, and prosecutors must be notified at least six hours before he goes anywhere.

The security measures were estimated to cost him about $200,000 a month, on top of the $50,000-a-month rent on a town house in trendy TriBeCa. He settled there after a hasty and fraught househunt: A plan to rent an apartment in a tony building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side fell through after residents complained about the hubbub as reporters and police milled around the building.

Under New York law, judges base bail decisions on factors including defendants’ characters, financial resources and criminal records, as well as the strength of the case against them — all intended to help gauge how likely they are to flee if released.

Defendants and prosecutors can raise the issue of bail at any point in a case. It’s common, if asking a judge to revisit a bail decision, to argue that new information or new proposed conditions change how one or more of the factors should be viewed.

The maid told police that Strauss-Kahn chased her down a hallway in his $3,000-a-night suite in the Sofitel hotel, tried to pull down her pantyhose and forced her to perform oral sex before she broke free.

Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers have said the encounter wasn’t forcible, and that they have unreleased information that could “gravely undermine the credibility” of the housekeeper. The defense was using private investigators to aggressively check out the victim’s background and her story, but the Times reported that it was investigators for the prosecution who uncovered discrepancies.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said the detectives investigating the case found the maid’s story believable.

“Obviously, the credibility of the complainant is a factor in cases of this nature,” Kelly said in May. “One of the things they’re trained to look for, and what was reported to me early on, was that the complainant was credible.”

The woman’s lawyer has said she is prepared to testify despite a “smear campaign” against her.

The Associated Press generally does not identify accusers in sex crime cases unless they agree to it.

Strauss-Kahn, 62, was in New York on a personal trip. He left the hotel shortly after the alleged assault — to have lunch with a relative, his attorneys have said.

During his initial bail hearings, prosecutors noted that Strauss-Kahn was arrested on a Paris-bound plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and that they could not compel his return from France if he fled. His lawyers have underscored that it was a long-planned flight, and they’ve said he wants to return to court to clear his name.

He resigned his IMF post after his arrest.

An updated, authorized biography of Strauss-Kahn was released in French bookstores this week with new material addressing the New York incident and claims of sexual assault against him by a French novelist. It includes interviews with his wife and sister and appears to be a vehicle for a vigorous defense of the former IMF chief.

Strauss-Kahn’s wife, prominent television journalist Anne Sinclair, describes being “very worried” about the case. She calls him “a good, honest and reliable man” and says “I believe in him more than ever.”

His sister Valerie is quoted in the book as saying she’s “sure he’s incapable of violence toward a woman.”

The biography was initially published two weeks before the May incident.

The new material also includes comments from Strauss-Kahn in an interview with author Michel Taubmann earlier this year dismissing accusations of sexual assault against him by novelist Tristane Banon.

She did not make a criminal complaint at the time of the 2003 incident, and her lawyer says she was pressured to keep it quiet by her mother, a regional official in Strauss-Kahn’s Socialist Party. The Associated Press is identifying Banon as an alleged victim of sexual assault because she has gone public with her account.

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