Lawyers for former IMF boss ask court in New York to dismiss civil suit brought by hotel maid over alleged sexual assault
Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s claim to immunity from being sued are “completely baseless”, lawyers for the hotel chambermaid he is alleged to have sexually assaulted said on Wednesday.
Attorneys for the former head of the International Monetary Fund asked a court in New York to dismiss the lawsuit, citing an international convention that the sitting judge noted had not been ratified by the US, with terms not backed by the IMF itself.
At the end of a two-hour hearing at Bronx supreme court, lawyers said alleged victim Nafissatou Diallo would not be denied her day in court and vowed that Strauss-Kahn would have to face justice.
The session came just hours after lurid details relating to Strauss-Kahn’s alleged links to a prostitution ring in Lille were leaked to the press.
According to a transcript of police questioning, reproduced in part by Le Monde, the married former IMF boss admitted to attending a string of orgies around the world. But he insisted that he did not know the female participants were paid to be there. He also is said to have admitted to using terms including “equipment” and “luggage” to describe woman.
On Monday, prosecutors handed down a preliminary charge of “aggravated procurement in an organized gang” in relation to a vice investigation centring on the French city of Lille. Strauss-Kahn’s French lawyer said his client engaged in “libertine” acts but denied any criminal wrongdoing.
The civil case being heard in New York is separate from the French criminal inquiry.
Lawyers for Diallo said they were watching developments over in Europe, but Strauss-Kahn’s US attorney said it had no bearing on the lawsuit. The civil proceedings relate to 33-year-old hotel employee’s claim that the French politician attacked her last May as she attempted to clean his room at New York’s Sofitel hotel.
She alleges that Strauss-Kahn ran at her naked, molested her and forced her to perform oral sex on him.
The claims led to a criminal investigation against the IMF boss last year and his house arrest in Manhattan. But charges of attempted rape, sex abuse, forcible touching and unlawful imprisonment were eventually dropped, with prosecutors citing “substantial credibility issues” with the alleged victim.
At the beginning of civil proceedings, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers tried to argue that the case be struck out as their client has immunity under international law. But Judge Douglas McKeon repeatedly pointed out to them that the framework they were arguing under – 1947′s Convention on Privileges and Immunities of Specialised Agencies – had never been ratified by the US.
Furthermore, the judge said that an annex to the document submitted by the IMF showed that the international body itself did not sign up to the “absolute immunity” it provided for.
“As I read it, the IMF adheres to its own immunity and declined to sign on to the absolute immunity that you claim the specialised agencies convention provides,” he told Amit Mehta, one of Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers.
In its own founding documents, the IMF provided for immunity for a senior executive working in an official capacity, the judge said. Straus-Kahn was not in New York on official business, it was noted in court.
Douglas Wignor, for Diallo, told the court that neither the IMF nor Strauss-Kahn himself had argued for immunity during the last year’s criminal case, in which the defendant pleaded not guilty.
“It was not in his interest to do so,” Mehta countered.
Wignor went on to argue that Strauss-Kahn had already stepped down from his post by the time the lawsuit was filed, and as such was not covered even if the IMF had claimed immunity for its former head.
The plaintiff’s lawyer concluded his arguments by asking the judge to “confirm what everybody else has said, that DSK does not have immunity.” He added: “Diallo will get her day in court and have a jury trial in this case.”
Judge McKeon adjourned the session to consider his verdict.
Outside court, Kenneth Thompson, Wignor’s co-counsel, said: “Dominique Strauss-Kahn thinks he is above the law. His claim of immunity is completely baseless.”
His client was still suffering both mentally and physically from the alleged attack, Thompson said.
Thompson added that they were not interested in “trying to settle this case”, only in getting Strauss-Kahn to a New York courtroom to face their allegations. But William Taylor, Mehta’s co-counsel, implied that financial concerns were the real motive behind the lawsuit.
“Oh course it is about money,” he said.
Neither Diallo nor Strauss-Kahn were in court to hear the legal arguments.
Asked about his client’s mood, Taylor said: “He is in good spirits. He sends his regards.”
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