PARIS, Sept 23 – French prosecutors will set up a face-to-face confrontation between former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the young French writer who has accused him of attempted rape, they said Friday.
Tristane Banon alleges the 62-year-old Socialist politician locked her in a bare Paris flat in 2003 and assaulted her. He has admitted making “an advance” on the 32-year-old author, but denies any use of violence.
“In the Banon-DSK matter the Paris prosecutor’s office has decided to arrange a confrontation between Tristane Banon and Dominique Strauss-Kahn,” said the prosecution, which has yet to decide whether to pursue charges.
The statement did not say when the meeting would take place.
Both parties have been interviewed by police over the alleged incident, and Banon told a television interviewer this week that she was keen to confront her alleged abuser in front of police investigators to test each other’s claims.
“The police unit asked me whether I was prepared to accept a confrontation. Obviously, I said: ‘Yes’. I want him in front of me so he can look into my eyes and say to my face that I imagined it,” Banon said.
Strauss-Kahn has lodged a lawsuit for slander against Banon over her claim, but on Friday the former government minister’s lawyers said he “had let the service in charge of this case know that he was at its disposal.”
Already a notorious womaniser, Strauss-Kahn’s career as managing director of the International Monetary Fund came crashing to an end in May when a New York hotel chambermaid accused him of sexual assault and he was arrested.
The case dashed his hopes of winning the French Socialist Party’s nomination to run for president next year, but his multimillionaire heiress wife stood by him and paid for a luxury Manhattan townhouse during his house arrest.
The New York prosecutor’s case collapsed last month after doubts emerged over the credibility of his accuser, Guinean immigrant Nafissatou Diallo, and the man the French call “DSK” made a triumphant return to Paris.
But French police were waiting to interview him about Banon’s allegations, which she first made publicly on television in 2007 and brought to magistrates this year after the New York case came to light.
She has claimed that Strauss-Kahn — 30 years her senior and a friend and one-time lover of her mother — lured her to an unfurnished Paris flat on the pretext of offering her an interview for a book she was writing.
She descibes him wrestling with her “like a rutting chimpanzee”, attempting to pull off her jeans and forcing her to kick and shout before escaping.
According to a source close to the inquiry, Strauss-Kahn told investigators that he had “made an advance” on her but had backed down on receiving a refusal and had at no point been violent or attempted to force himself on her.
Banon’s complaint is for attempted rape rather than for sexual assault or harassment, and if the prosecutor decides to downgrade the charge Strauss-Kahn would be protected by the statute of limitations on the lesser crimes.
Regardless of the result of the criminal inquiry, Banon has vowed to lodge a civil suit against him, even as Strauss-Kahn will pursue his defamation suit against her. Diallo is also seeking damages in a New York civil case.
Strauss-Kahn was the pollsters’ favourite to win next year’s presidential election and oust the unpopular centre-right incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, and the cases have provoked a political earthquake in France.
The ongoing Socialist primary campaign is now a more open race, with former Strauss-Kahn rival Francois Hollande now expected to win. In a television interview, Strauss-Kahn said he had abandoned his presidential bid for now.
The accusations have also provoked broader soul-searching in France about the attitudes of powerful men towards women, and the media’s reluctance to challenge public figures about their private behaviour.
Feminists were outraged at Strauss-Kahn’s hero’s welcome on his return, and demonstrated outside a television studio when he protested his innocence.