When he reigned as head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) was a top contender to unseat Nicolas Sarkozy as French president. But accusations that he sexually assaulted a hotel maid torpedoed his reputation and led to a leadership shakeup.
Strauss-Kahn was staying in a $3,000-per-night Sofitel Hotel suite in New York City. The maid, Nafissatou Diallo, gave a shocking account of DSK emerging naked from the bath as she entered his room on May 14, then chasing her down a hallway, pulling her into a bedroom, and attacking her. That same day, DSK was pulled off a Paris-bound Air France flight. He was arrested and charged with sexual assault and attempted rape.
The case seemed to depict a reprehensible abuse of power and class, pitting a wealthy politician against a low-paid Guinean immigrant. The media frenzy included claims of political frame-ups, lawsuits, and more “insinuations” about DSK’s extramarital habits.
Married to journalist Anne Sinclair for 20 years, DSK has long been the subject of skirt-chasing rumors. As the New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch wrote after attending a dinner party with several people who knew DSK, “According to the stories, he grabbed women in elevators, he cornered them in gardens, and if they resisted he liked to pursue [them] with phone calls and text messages.”
France has traditionally looked the other way when it comes to the personal affairs of their politicians. But the fallout over these allegations proved devastating for DSK. As he awaited a bail hearing from a cell at Rikers Island (a far cry from his Sofitel suite), he resigned from his IMF post amid international pressure. French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde was named his replacement in June — the first-ever female chief.
DSK’s future as a French presidential contender had imploded, and he had all the markings of a ruined man. New complaints of sexual assault briefly emerged from French novelist Tristane Banon (the investigation was later dropped). Out on $1 million bail, DSK served “house arrest” at a swanky $50,000-per-month Manhattan townhouse.
Astonishing turn of events
Then the case took another astonishing turn and began to unravel. As law enforcement officers took a closer look at the accuser, they found her credibility lacking. DSK’s lawyers had always claimed that the encounter between the two was consensual. Prosecutors found Diallo had lied about her background, including false statements made on her 2003 asylum application and a fabricated account of a gang rape in her native country.
There were also concerns about a financial motive, adding to the theory that the incident was a politically motivated setup that involved hotel staff (a theory Sofitel disputed). With no other witnesses, Diallo’s credibility was key. Once that was tarnished, the case had nowhere to go but away. In a little over three months, the largest criminal case pursued by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance was over.
No quick return to politics
Many feminist advocates were concerned that victims of sexual assault might fear speaking up after such a highly publicized fiasco. “What happened to me, I don’t want that to happen to any other woman,” Diallo said at a rally held in New York, before charges were dropped.
A quick return to the political spotlight doesn’t seem likely for DSK; his admitted “moral failing” sullied his reputation, and he is now one of the most disliked politicians in France. New accusations about an alleged involvement in a French prostitution ring haven’t helped. He also still faces a civil case from Diallo.
There have been some reports suggesting this case could lead to more scrutiny into the personal lives of French politicians. DSK, for his part, is fighting back: He and his wife filed a lawsuit against several media outlets for invasion of privacy. No matter what happens next, the downfall of DSK was one of the most compelling stories of 2011.
Rebecca Krasney Stropoli oversees news coverage on Yahoo! Finance. Before joining Yahoo! in 2007, she worked in a variety of editorial settings, including educational publishing houses and trade magazine newsrooms.