Though it is several weeks since the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and front runner in the polls for the presidential election in France, the whole French nation continues to remain totally stunned and disoriented.
Nobody in their wildest dreams could have imagined such a scenario. DSK was the champion of the socialist party, a brilliant economist with a solid record as finance minister and highly respected as head of the IMF. He was arrested just minutes before take-off on the tarmac of JFK airport in New York on an Air France flight to Paris.
He was taken off the plane by officers of the Port Authority of New York and handed over to Manhattan detectives who took him to the police station in Harlem and charged him with sexual assault, forcible confinement, and attempted rape. The plaintiff was a chambermaid at the Sofitel hotel near Times Square where DSK had been staying.
The chambermaid, Ms Nafissatou Diallo, also known as Ophelia, is a thirty-two year old single mother of Guinean origin who has a fifteen-year old daughter called Dana. They live in a small rented apartment in the Bronx. Ophelia had been working at the Sofitel for three years and had an excellent reputation both with her colleagues and the director of the hotel, Jorge Tito, who spoke very highly of her. Ophelia is known and appreciated within the African community in the neighbourhood where she lives. She is a practicing Muslim and lives and dresses conservatively and discretely.
A cleaning supervisor found Ophelia hiding in a hallway until DSK left his luxury suite at US$3 000 a night. She had nausea and was trembling and traumatised. She spat on the walls and floor several times during questioning by her superiors and, at one point, went into a bathroom to try to vomit. Her saliva was later removed from the carpet and walls as evidence. She expressed concern that she might lose her job for having mistakenly entered the suite while it was occupied. She was taken by ambulance to the Roosevelt hospital for care and treatment.
Amnesty International estimates that 50 000 to 90 000 rapes are committed in France every year. Three French organisations affirm that 75 000 females are raped every year. That is a rate of 2.24 per mille of the female population and an average of 200 rapes per day. The number of male rapes is less well known as most of them are never reported, even when they occur in prison.
According to the national rape assistance telephone network only one rape in eleven is reported to the police. Seventy-four percent of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. Twenty-five percent are committed by a member of the family. Fifty-seven percent of the victims are minors. Forty-nine percent of rapes are committed without physical violence. Sixty-seven percent occur at the home of either the victim or the aggressor. Forty-five percent take place during daytime. Crimes in France are subject to a statute of limitations that means that they must be prosecuted within a certain time limit, otherwise prescription applies and it is too late. The prescription for rape is ten years. This is particularly important in the case of minors who wish to pursue their aggressor when they attain legal majority.
The clock is ticking on a young French journalist and novelist, Ms Tristane Banon, who revealed on a television show in February 2007 that DSK tried to rape her during an interview for a book she was writing in 2002 about major mistakes in the lives of political figures. As the show was not filmed live, the name of DSK was obliterated. The affair was hushed-up. Ms Banon’s mother, Anne Mansouret, later declared she was responsible for dissuading her daughter from pressing charges against DSK because she was concerned about possible repercussions for his family. DSK’s second wife, Brigitte Guillemette, is Banon’s godmother. Ms Mansouret also wished to protect the reputation of her daughter.
Banon’s lawyer, David Koubbi, indicated he wouldn’t make a criminal complaint against DSK while the American prosecution is going on because the two cases should be kept separate. He did not rule out making a complaint after that. Because of the statute of limitations this must be done in 2012 at the latest.
The news of DSK’s indictment has opened-up a whole bag of worms. Tongues have been loosened and stories are being told which nobody can verify. The only affair that has been clearly proven is the liaison he had with a female subordinate at the IMF, Ms Piroska Nagy. Ms Nagy is a Hungarian economist whose husband was the former Argentine central bank President, Mario Blejer. Ms Nagy left the IMF and DSK issued a public apology for the affair which the IMF board described as "regrettable and reflected a serious error of judgment on the part of the managing director".
DSK celebrated his sixty-second birthday just three weeks prior to his arrest at the JFK airport. He was born in the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly, home of some of the wealthiest people in France. His father was born to an Alsatian Jewish father and a Catholic mother from Lorraine. His mother came from a Sephardic Jewish family in Tunisia.
DSK’s political base is in Sarcelles, a town in the northern suburbs of Paris. It is a poor district, quite the opposite of Neuilly, where many “pieds-noirs” found refuge, mainly Jewish, during the Algerian war of independence. DSK was mayor and deputy mayor of Sarcelles until he resigned in 2007 to become Managing Director of the IMF.
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