This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global-news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article below was originally published in Le Monde.
It’s been one stunning revelation after another. Since that Sunday morning, May 15, when news hit that the head of the International Monetary Fund the man the French thought might be their next President had been charged with attempted rape, the Strauss-Kahn affair has brought a rapid-fire succession of astonishing twists.
The most recent of these were prosecutors’ uncovering “major holes in the credibility” of Strauss-Kahn’s accuser, as first reported by the New York Times. The credibility issue forced investigators to take a new and careful look at the relatively sparse information they have about the presumed victim, a hotel chambermaid.
The district attorney’s office said that while the woman maintains she was assaulted that and DNA tests “found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter” between her and Strauss-Kahn, her repeated lies during the investigation have destabilized the prosecution.
The accuser, who opted to use the Shakespearean name Ophelia at the Manhattan Sofitel where she worked, disappeared from public view immediately after the case broke. She left the apartment in the Bronx where she lived with her 16-year-old daughter and has been under heavy police protection since. The first published photograph of her showed her covered with a white sheet as she exited a New York courthouse. Some French papers published a photo that was said to be of her but that was too blurry to be identifiable. What we know about the presumed victim is that she is a 5 ft. 9 in. tall, 32-year-old widow, a Guinean of the Peul tribe who received asylum in the United States. Perhaps in an attempt to exonerate their client, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers have described her as “not very attractive.”
Fragments of a Life
Places and people that were a part of her life yielded more information about her. In New York, those places included the Sofitel, where she had been working for three years, and the African takeout in the Bronx where she worked late shifts after she got back from her hotel job. There was the six-story red brick building with a broken elevator on Gerald Avenue in the Bronx, where the Harlem Community AIDS United Center a foundation dedicated to providing care for HIV/AIDS patients rented out moderately priced apartments like the one she occupied. DSK’s accuser also sometimes went to the Futa mosque, a big red brick building on the corner of 3rd Avenue. The New York Times dispatched a reporter to Tchakul, the tiny village on the high plains of Guinea where she was born, but the journalist was unable to find anything that would shed light on the young woman’s personality.
She was a regular at Caf 2115, an African restaurant on Frederick Douglass Boulevard in central Harlem. After the alleged incident, the restaurant manager, Blake Diallo, held several press conferences at which he presented himself as the “brother” of the presumed victim. Appearing tired and overwhelmed, he told reporters that his sister worked hard, was a good Muslim and wasn’t the type who would attack a man. He added that she felt unwell and was very tired and afraid and that all she wanted to do was cry.
Diallo also told reporters that his sister had called him in the middle of the afternoon from the hospital the police had taken her to after having heard her account of the alleged event. According to him, she, still in shock and sobbing, had blurted out that a man had tried to do something very bad to her. He refuted the idea that his sister could have been part of a setup, saying she had no idea who Dominique Strauss-Kahn was and that he had had to explain it to her.
Le Monde learned soon afterward that Diallo is Senegalese, not Guinean, and that he was her boyfriend, not her brother. Contacted about this, Diallo explained somewhat ingenuously that he had said sister “because in Africa people call each other brother and sister.”
Diallo’s about-face was the first bit of incoherence to make an appearance in the case. The only other information that might have cast doubt about the presumed victim’s story was a rumor reported by the New York Post, a tabloid with good police sources but not known for its reliability. The rumor was that the alleged victim had asked her superiors if she could replace an absent colleague on the VIP floor the floor where Strauss-Kahn occupied suite 2806. The veteran chambermaid was not out of the loop insofar as information went: she was a union member, and photographs of celebrity guests were often put up in the maids’ changing rooms in the hotel basement.
A final clue that could have raised questions: the unexplained retreat of lawyers Jeffrey Shapiro and Norman Siegel, originally chosen by the presumed victim, in favor of media-savvy Kenneth Thompson, whose angle on the case was that it pitted the rich and powerful against the poor without a voice. His client, he said, was “standing up for all women and children around the world who have been sexually assaulted or sexually abused.”
For their part, the maid’s employers and people who knew her all said the same thing: that she was a nice, respectable girl and a good Muslim. Neighbors described her as discreet and self-effacing, always modestly dressed, wearing a headscarf and avoiding high heels. Jorge Tito, the Sofitel director, stated in a press release that she had been an entirely satisfactory employee in terms of both the quality of her work and her behavior. It was Tito who, after listening to the account right after the alleged incident took place, alerted the New York Police Department.
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See “Strauss-Kahn Released, Case Not Dismissed.”
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