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US judge drops sex crime charges against DSK

August 24, 2011 03:45 IST

A US judge on Tuesday dismissed all sex crime charges against former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a move that could bolster his plans to contest the next French presidential elections in 2012.

The dismissal will take effect once an appeal against it has been ruled on. "I see no basis to deny," New York court Judge Michael Obus said ending an over three-month long saga that brought down one of the world's most powerful men and caused a global uproar.

The prosecution, which had Monday moved a motion for dropping all sexual assault charges against Strauss-Kahn, told the court that they cannot prove the charges "beyond a reasonable doubt" due to the lack of credibility in the hotel maid's accounts of the incident.

The prosecution said evidence collected in the case was "consistent with a non-consensual encounter" but decided to drop the case because they could not prove it was forced and the woman told too many lies.

Justice Obus of State Supreme Court in Manhattan said in the hearing that lasted about 15 minutes that the "court grants the application (of the prosecutors) to dismiss the indictment" against Strauss-Kahn.

Obus, however, added that the ruling would not be effective until an appeals court gets a chance to consider whether a special prosecutor should be appointed in the case.

Strauss-Kahn smiled as he left the courtroom, which was packed to capacity. The former IMF chief issued a statement after the hearing saying he was grateful to his friends in France and in the US "who have believed in my innocence."

Strauss-Kahn, 62, was arrested on May 14 after being pulled from an Air France flight bound for Paris after Nafissatou Diallo, a 32-year-old maid working at Manhattan Sofitel hotel, said he chased her down and forced her to perform oral sex.

He was charged with criminal sex act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment besides other violations. His arrest forced him to resign as head of the IMF on May 18 and abandon his bid for upcoming French presidential elections.

Strauss-Kahn called the events from the time he was arrested for sexually assaulting the Guinean hotel maid in May "a nightmare" for him and his family.

"I want to thank all the friends in France and in the United States who have believed in my innocence and to the thousands of people who sent us their support personally and in writing," he said.

The former IMF boss said he was "most deeply grateful to my wife and family who have gone through this ordeal with me".

"We will have nothing further to say about this matter and we look forward to returning to our home and resuming something of a more normal life," he added.

Strauss-Kahn said he was "obviously gratified that the district attorney agreed with my lawyers that this case had to be dismissed."

"We appreciate his professionalism and that of the people who were involved in that decision," he added. Obus dismissed the seven-count indictment against Strauss-Kahn, pending the appeal of his ruling earlier Tuesday that a special prosecutor should not be appointed.

The judge said he saw "no reason" not to dismiss the case, based on the motion for dismissal filed by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance's office Monday.

The case against Strauss-Kahn had been considerably weakened after it emerged that the maid has been lying to prosecutors, including about a gang rape she said she suffered back in her home country of Guinea.

In addition, she was said to have discussed his wealth in a telephone conversation with a Guinean friend currently held in a US prison. Earlier in the day, Obus had issued an order denying a request by Diallo's lawyer Kenneth Thompson to appoint a special prosecutor to take over the case.

He had dismissed a plea of Thompson for the removal of the district attorney Cyrus Vance for mishandling the high-profile case.

The lawyer had suggested that the district attorney had mishandled the case. He said Vance's office was "unfit" to try the case, accusing Manhattan prosecutors of "unfair treatment" and "bias."

However, the court did not find any merit in the plea. "After considering the allegations in the complainant's application, in light of the circumstances of this case, the court concludes that nothing called to its attention established disqualification or warrants removal of the elected district attorney of this county," the judge said as the hearing resumed in the case today.

Thompson said an appeal would be filed in the above connection within the Court stipulated 30-day period. Thompson has appealed the decision, which led to Justice Obuss staying the dismissal.

Obus said the appeal's court would rule on the matter later on Tuesday, which means Strauss-Kahn must await that verdict before he is free to return to France.

As the former IMF boss and his wife exited the court house into a sea of the waiting media, Diallo's supporters greeted him with angry slogans.

Holding placards and banners that read 'Nafissatou Diallo we believe you', 'DSK rapes women like he does the world', Diallo's supporters shouted 'DSK shame on you,' and 'All rape victims deserve a fair trial'.

Strauss Kahn left the court house in an SUV escorted by the New York Police Department personnel. At the start of the hearing, Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon read parts of the 25-page motion of 'Recommendation for Dismissal' prosecutors had submitted yesterday in the Supreme Court of the State of New York.

Illuzzi-Orbon said Diallo had been "untruthful about matters great and small." She said the evidence available at the time of the indictment had "satisfied" prosecutors that Diallo was "reliable."

"But evidence gathered in our post indictment investigation severely undermined her reliability as a witness in the case."

"After an extensive investigation, it is clear that proof of two critical elements - force and lack of consent - would rest solely" on Diallo's testimony, she said.

While the "physical, scientific and other evidence" establishes that Strauss-Kahn engaged in a "hurried sexual encounter" with Diallo, it does not "independently establish her claim of a forcible, nonconsensual encounter."

Diallo provided "shifting and inconsistent versions" of the events surrounding the alleged assault. "As a result we cannot be sufficiently certain of what actually happened on May 14 or what account of these events the complainant would give at trial," Illuzzi-Orbon said the Assistant District Attorney said "the nature and number of the complainant's falsehoods leave us unable to credit her version of events beyond a resonable doubt, whatever the truth may be about the encounter" between Strauss-Kahn and Diallo."

"If we do not believe her beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot ask a jury to do so," she said.

Diallo, a maid at the Sofitel hotel, had claimed that she was sexually assaulted on May 14 by Strauss-Kahn when she had gone to clean his room. Strauss-Kahn, a key contender for the French Presidency at the time, was taken off an Air France flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport a few hours after the alleged incident and was placed under arrest.

The dismissal of the criminal case does not bring to an end Strauss-Kahn's legal woes. Diallo has filed a civil suit against him in a separate court.

Asking the court to dismiss all charges against Strauss-Kahn, prosecutors said in their 25-page motion that "their cumulative effect would be devastating".

What is sure is that a 'quick sexual encounter' took place between Strauss-Kahn and Diallo, prosecutors said. DNA testing "established that several stains located on the upper portion of the complainant's hotel uniform dress contained semen that yielded the defendant's DNA," the Manhattan District Attorney's Office had said in the motion.

Evidence collected was "consistent with a non-consensual encounter," prosecutors said.

However, the DA's office said the physical evidence, while showing a sexual encounter, did not conclusively prove the maid's assertion that she was assaulted and forced to perform oral sex.

Diallo showed no injuries strongly indicating attempted rape and slight damage to her undergarments could have occurred from normal wear and tear, the motion said.

However, other factors, such as the hurried nature of the sex act that resulted in Strauss-Kahn's semen landing on the maid's clothing, pointed to a 'forced encounter'.

"The encounter between the complainant and the defendant was brief, suggesting that the sexual act was not likely a product of a consensual encounter," the motion said with the charges dropped, Strauss-Kahn is set to walk free after spending over two months in detention -- first in a New York prison and then under house arrest with electronic surveillance.

However, Strauss-Kahn has also been sued for attempted rape by 32-year-old writer Tristane Banon in his home country France, in connection with an incident that occurred in 2003.

Despite the apparent collapse of the New York case, he could still face further sexual assault charges when he returns to France.

Image: A smiling Strauss-Kahn departs the New York State Supreme Courthouse in New York on Tuesday

Photograph: Kena Betancur/Reuters

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