Strauss-Kahn to face fresh sexual assault complaint

A FRENCH novelist will file a criminal complaint today accusing Dominique Strauss-Kahn of attempted rape, her lawyer said, throwing fresh uncertainty into a fierce national debate about whether the former International Monetary Fund chief can return to his country’s presidential race.

A sexual assault case against Strauss-Kahn in New York has been badly weakened by questions about his accuser’s credibility. As a result, France was consumed yesterday by the question of whether the longtime Socialist Party politician would revive his dream of running against unpopular conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The political world was hit by a new shock when the lawyer for writer Tristane Banon announced she planned to file the complaint in Paris within a day.

Banon came forward after Strauss-Kahn’s May 14 arrest in New York, accusing him of wrenching open her bra and trying to unbutton her jeans in 2002. Lawyer David Koubbi said Banon had been dissuaded at the time from filing charges by her mother, a regional councillor in Strauss-Kahn’s Socialist Party.

Koubbi also had said his client had no intention of pressing charges while the American prosecution was going on because the two cases should be kept separate. Now, Banon is pressing forward, Koubbi said.

Messages of support for the complaint quickly appeared on Banon’s Facebook page.

Before Koubbi’s announcement, the country was split on whether it wanted Strauss-Kahn back in public life: two polls showed an almost even division between those who thought he should return, and those who believed his political career was over.

The former IMF chief had been widely seen as the leading contender in the 2012 election, leading polls in the months before his arrest.

With the alleged victim’s credibility undercut and Strauss-Kahn free on bail, French politicians and pundits largely assume the charges against him will be dropped within weeks.

For many, the question is whether a man paraded in handcuffs before photographers outside a Harlem police station a month and a half ago will try to run against widely unpopular Sarkozy and become leader of the world’s fifth-largest economy.

“DSK Back?” the left- leaning daily Liberation asked on its front page yesterday, describing Strauss- Kahn’s release from house arrest as having turned the Socialist primary race upside down for the second time in as many months.

“Dominique Strauss-Kahn will express his intentions when he wants to,” Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry told France-2 television.

The charges still stand against Strauss-Kahn, who has relinquished his passport to authorities in New York. Another court hearing would be needed for him to get it back. His next appearance is scheduled for July 18, five days after the deadline for candidates to register in the Socialist Party primary.

As a result, much of the debate about Strauss-Kahn’s political future centres on whether the Socialists would push back the primary deadline.

“Let’s acknowledge that if Strauss-Kahn decides to come back as a candidate on our side, no one will try to oppose him using some calendar,” said Aubry, who declared her candidacy only after Strauss-Kahn’s arrest.

Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon appeared to disagree, an indication of the confusion and disagreement in the party about a man seen by some as a martyr of US injustice and by others as an out-of-touch jet-setter with a history of crude behaviour toward women.

“We can’t base the (political) calendar, which involves millions of French people, on the American judicial calendar,” he said yesterday.

Hamon left open the possibility, however, that Strauss-Kahn could become a candidate even after the official deadline.

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