Judge Releases Ex-IMF Chief In Stunning Turn, Strauss-Kahn Is Freed From House Arrest Amid Doubts About Sexual-Assault Case
Former IMF leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest Friday amid new revelations about his accuser in an alleged sexual assault, but criminal charges weren't dismissed. Chad Bray and Ashby Jones have details.
NEW YORK—New York prosecutors said Friday that the hotel maid who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault made a litany of false statements to them and grand jurors, and they said the misstatements had undermined the criminal case against the former International Monetary Fund chief.
Mr. Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest in a lower Manhattan townhouse, where he had been under armed guard and on electronic monitoring, after a judge during a court hearing loosened the conditions of his bail in light of the disclosures. But prosecutors, who retained his passport, did not seek to dismiss the charges, which they say they are still investigating.
"Of course, the case is not over," State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus said as Mr. Strauss-Kahn sat in court, showing little emotion and saying nothing. "There will be no rush to judgment," the judge said.
Prosecutors said in a court filing that the maid had lied about her whereabouts immediately after the alleged attack, about the circumstances under which she sought asylum in the U.S., and on her tax filings in recent years.
The disclosures by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and his aides, who had previously expressed great confidence in the maid's account, marked a stunning turnabout in a case that had landed one of France's most prominent figures in jail at Rikers Island and imperiled his chances of becoming the country's next president
"The DA rushed this case, and now it's paying the price," said Michael Bachner, a criminal-defense lawyer and former prosecutor in Manhattan.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Vance said that "after the indictment, the district attorney made clear that the investigation would continue and prosecutors would take the case wherever the facts led. Today we did just that."
Immediately after the court hearing Friday morning, Kenneth Thompson, a lawyer for the maid, a 32-year-old single mother and immigrant from Guinea, recounted to reporters details of the alleged May 14 attack and accused prosecutors of mistreating his client and preparing to dismiss the case.
"The victim here made some mistakes," Mr. Thompson said. "That doesn't mean she is not a rape victim."
Benjamin Brafman, one of Mr. Strauss-Kahn's lawyers, said the latest developments were the "first step to what we believe will be full exoneration." He said defense lawyers would seek to dismiss the charges.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers are expected to discuss how to resolve the case in the coming weeks.
Mr. Strauss-Kahn has pleaded not guilty to a seven-count indictment handed up by a grand jury on May 19, five days after his arrest. The most serious felony carries a 25-year sentence.
Prosecutors said Friday that forensic evidence still shows that Mr. Strauss-Kahn and the maid had a sexual encounter in suite 2806 of Manhattan's Sofitel hotel. But Assistant District Attorney Joan Iluzzi-Orbon told the judge that "it is clear that the strength of the case has been affected by the substantial credibility issues relating to the complaining witness."
At the time of Mr. Strauss-Kahn's indictment, when prosecutors sought the restrictive conditions of his bail, the forensic evidence and witness accounts "strongly suggested something other than a consensual act," Ms. Illuzi-Orbon said.
In the ensuing weeks, prosecutors continued to investigate the background both of Mr. Strauss-Kahn and his accuser, as they would in any case, prosecutors have said.
On May 25, protesting leaks to the media about the case, defense lawyers wrote prosecutors a letter saying that they could release information that would "gravely undermine the credibility of the complainant in this case." Prosecutors responded by asking the defense to turn over the information, but that didn't occur, a person familiar with the matter said.
In early June, Mr. Thompson, the maid's lawyer, called prosecutors and said his client wanted to come in and discuss some inaccuracies in an application for political asylum she had filed with the U.S. government on Dec. 30, 2004.
In that meeting, and in a series of subsequent interviews over the past several weeks, she revealed that she had fabricated events in her asylum applications and given them false information on a range of matters. Mr. Thompson said prosecutors had yelled at his client during those meetings
Daniel Alonso, the chief assistant district attorney, said prosecutors had "acted appropriately" with the witness.
Prosecutors disclosed the misstatements, as they said they were required to do by law, in a letter to defense lawyers on Thursday, which was filed in court on Friday.
According to the filing by prosecutors, the witness had described in her asylum application how her home in Guinea had been destroyed by police and soldiers, and said she and her husband had been repeatedly beaten. Her husband was incarcerated, tortured, deprived of treatment and eventually died, her application said, according to prosecutors.
But the maid admitted in subsequent interviews with prosecutors that she had fabricated that account, along with another she had given them about being the victim of a gang rape in her native country. People who lie in order to gain asylum, like anyone who commits immigration fraud, could face deportation.
During the interviews where she initially said she had been gang raped, "the victim cried and appeared to be markedly distraught," prosecutors said in the letter they filed on Friday. Later, she told them that she had memorized the rape account as part of her asylum application, they said. She still maintains she was raped in Guinea, on a different occasion, the filing said.
Prosecutors also said that the maid initially told investigators, and later the grand jury, that she fled Mr. Strauss-Kahn's hotel suite and reported the alleged incident to her supervisor after she observed Mr. Strauss-Kahn get on an elevator.
She has since admitted that she cleaned a nearby room and returned to clean Mr. Strauss-Kahn's suite before reporting the incident, prosecutors said in the letter.
She also admitted to declaring a friend's child as her own for tax purposes to increase her tax refund, and to misrepresenting her income in order to maintain her current housing, prosecutors said in the letter.
Prosecutors also have obtained a tape of a conversation the woman had a day after the alleged attack with an inmate incarcerated on drug charges in Arizona, people familiar with the matter said.
In the conversation, which occurred in her native language but was translated by the prosecutors' office earlier this week, she described the alleged attack and also said she expected to make money from it, one of the people said. Details about that call were not included in the prosecutors' disclosures Friday.
In his remarks to reporters, Mr. Thompson said his client had been encouraged by someone helping her with her asylum application to "hype it up." He said she had done so to protect her daughter from genital mutilation in Guinea. He said she had been a victim of genital mutilation herself.
After her encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn, Mr. Thompson said, she had cleaned another room and Mr. Strauss-Kahn's before reporting the alleged assault because she was waiting for her supervisor and didn't want to lose her job.
Mr. Thompson said prosecutors still have "pieces of evidence that show that Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted the victim," including photographs of vaginal bruising taken at the hospital, spots in the room that she said contained his DNA, and proof that he left the hotel so quickly that he still had toothpaste smeared across his face.
"The [district attorney] may be on the verge of abandoning this victim, but we will not abandon her," Mr. Thompson said.
Law-enforcement officials have said they have found no conclusive evidence of injury. Mr. Brafman, Strauss-Kahn's lawyer said that "we vigorously disagree with the substance" of Mr. Thompson's statements, but declined to comment further.
Mr. Vance, the district attorney, said that "with regard to the treatment of this victim, we have done nothing but support her."