NEW YORK (AFP) – Fallen IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn plans to launch a fight to clear his name Monday by pleading not guilty in a New York court to charges that he tried to rape a hotel maid.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, was one of the most influential people in the global economy and widely considered to be a leading contender for the French presidency until his shocking arrest three weeks ago on an Air France plane about to depart New York for Paris.
He is accused on seven counts, including attempted rape, in what prosecutors say was a brutal assault on a 32-year-old immigrant from west Africa sent to clean his luxury suite at Manhattan’s Sofitel on May 14.
Strauss-Kahn, who swapped his fine suits for prison garb before being granted bail a week after his arrest, said through his high-profile lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, that he intends to fight hard.
He will enter a formal plea before Judge Michael Obus in Manhattan criminal court, setting the stage for a lengthy trial process. There are also expectations that defense lawyers will use the occasion to demand quick access to evidence collected by police in their forensic examination of the hotel room, the maid and Strauss-Kahn himself.
Brafman indicated in a letter filed in court that he was unhappy with media leaks airing the evidence, which claims to show that the French politician’s semen was found on the maid’s shirt.
In the US pre-trial process known as “discovery,” parties are obliged to answer questions about their opponent’s evidence collection. Prosecutors have told Brafman that he will be given materials, but in the proper time.
In an interview broadcast Sunday, Brafman told France’s M6 television show “66 Minutes” that his client will be acquitted.
“We have a chance to win in this case because I don’t think Mr Strauss-Kahn is guilty of the charges. I believe he’s going to be exonerated,” he said, reiterating his earlier predictions. “It is a sincere statement and a good-faith belief in the outcome.”
Strauss-Kahn spent Sunday hidden away in his luxury rental house in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood while journalists gathered outside.
The house arrest has given Strauss-Kahn a high degree of privacy as he huddles with Brafman, who has represented a number of high-profile stars including Michael Jackson.
Strauss-Kahn’s arrest and quick resignation from his post as head of the International Monetary Fund threw the global lender and economic policy powerhouse into disarray just as it grapples with debt crises in the European Union.
Many in France believe that the Socialist party figure has been mistreated, but the case has also stirred unusually vigorous debate in the country over long-taboo subjects such as sexual harassment.
Strauss-Kahn, who is married to an art heiress and famous former French television journalist, is spending vast sums on his defense. Just the bill for his home detention costs some $200,000 a month, according to prosecutors, while the TriBeCa rental is estimated to cost $50,000 a month.
In addition to Brafman, Strauss-Kahn is employing private investigators believed to be digging into the personal life of the maid, who immigrated from Guinea. Lawyers claim to have information that could “gravely undermine” her position, but they have not given more detail.
The prosecution is also led by big guns Joan Illuzzi-Orbon and Ann Prunty. Illuzzi-Orbon is head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s hate crimes unit.
Brafman has hinted at a possible argument that a sexual encounter did take place, but that it was consensual.
“Ultimately juries treat people fairly in most cases,” Brafman told M6.
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