Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer asked a US judge Wednesday to dismiss a civil suit brought by a New York hotel maid, saying the disgraced French politician had diplomatic immunity when he allegedly assaulted her.
The suit “must be dismissed,” Amit Mehta said in New York state court at the start of a hearing called to decide whether Strauss-Kahn enjoyed immunity.
Mehta said Strauss-Kahn, who was head of the International Monetary Fund when the scandal erupted on May 14 last year, has “the same kind of diplomatic immunity that other high ranking officials and diplomats enjoy.”
The “law compels the dismissal of this complaint,” he said.
Attorneys for the maid, Nafissatou Diallo, say that status did not apply under the circumstances, arguing that Strauss-Kahn was not on official duty while in New York that weekend.
The IMF “managing director’s immunity is limited to official acts,” Douglas Wigdor said.
Wigdor said Strauss-Kahn had “brutally sexually assaulted Ms Diallo” and now sought to “deny Ms Diallo’s right to a trial in this case and delay these proceedings.”
Judge Douglas McKeon repeatedly challenged Mehta in a highly technical debate on international treaty law, but was not expected to rule immediately.
The hearing was the first in the civil action brought by the hotel maid whose accusations triggered the spectacular downfall of one of the world’s most powerful politicians last year.
Neither Strauss-Kahn, who is simultaneously facing criminal pimping charges in France, nor Diallo, were present in the wood-paneled Bronx courtroom. Several dozen journalists, many of them from France, attended.
According to Strauss-Kahn, 63, only a consensual sexual encounter took place at the Sofitel hotel in Manhattan.
US prosecutors threw out criminal charges, saying the maid’s testimony would not stand up in a jury trial. However, Diallo is pursuing the French statesman for unspecified financial damages.
“She wants recognition of her status as a victim and the reality of the attack she suffered,” her French lawyer Thibault de Montbrial told French television channel LCI earlier.
He said Diallo was still employed by the Sofitel hotel and expected to go back to work there at some point, adding that she still required treatment on her shoulder, “which was injured during the assault.”
Unless Strauss-Kahn settles, Wednesday’s arguments could prove to be only the first salvo of a drawn-out and bitter court battle.
Allegations in the civil suit are much the same as the criminal charges initially lodged against Strauss-Kahn: that Diallo went to clean his luxury hotel suite and was subjected to a brutal sexual assault.
The fallen politician, who at the time of the incident had been seen as a favorite to win France’s presidency, denied any violence occurred.
Meanwhile, in France, Strauss-Kahn was charged Monday with “aggravated pimping” in an unrelated sex case. He could face a sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors say Strauss-Kahn was involved in an organized vice ring that supplied prostitutes for orgies with wealthy men. Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers say he attended group sex parties, but did not know the women were paid to be there.
Although Strauss-Kahn appeared to have been given some chance to restore his reputation after US prosecutors ditched the assault case against him last year, the explosion of the French scandal quickly reversed that.
Although he insists on his innocence, the steady drip of allegations about the former statesman’s behavior has painted a lurid and unflattering picture.
In the latest salvo, the daily Le Monde published what it said were text messages once sent by Strauss-Kahn in which he referred to women at the orgies as “equipment” and “luggage.”
Strauss-Kahn’s legal team reacted furiously, accusing Le Monde of quoting selectively from the document and declaring they would lodge a legal complaint with authorities alleging their client’s rights had been violated.