PARIS (Reuters) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party on Saturday dismissed allegations of a political plot to bring down disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, following an investigative report by a U.S. journalist.
The article by Edward Jay Epstein, published in the New York Review of Books, raised the question of whether a Blackberry phone belonging to Strauss-Kahn might have been being tapped by his political opponents at the time he was arrested in May on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel maid.
Prosecutors in New York later dropped criminal charges against Strauss-Kahn, citing doubts about the credibility of the maid Nafissatou Diallo, who continues with a civil case.
At the time of his arrest, Strauss-Kahn — a former Socialist finance minister — was the front-runner to win France’s presidential elections next year and unseat Sarkozy. He was forced to resign his IMF post as a result of the scandal, which also ended his presidential prospects.
The secretary-general of the UMP, Jean-Francois Cope, said the allegations were an obvious manipulation.
“As long as these are just allegations based on anonymous testimony we know nothing about, you will understand that we remain extremely cautious and are not fooled,” Cope said.
“To imagine that what happened to Mr Strauss-Kahn was the object of any kind of involvement by the UMP, excuse me, but let me say that it’s a bit obvious as a manipulation,” he said.
The article quoted unnamed sources close to Strauss-Kahn as saying a friend of his working as a researcher at the UMP’s offices had warned him that at least one of his private emails sent from his Blackberry had been read there.
The report also called into question the behavior of the staff of the Sofitel Hotel in New York, where the alleged assault took place. It said that a hotel employee and an unidentified man appeared to celebrate as they awaited the arrival of police after hotel management called in the incident.
There was no immediate reaction from the Accor Group, which owns the Sofitel chain.
The report prompted a lawyer for Strauss-Kahn, attorney William Taylor, to issuing a statement saying that the likelihood that his client was the target of a deliberate effort to destroy him as a political force could not be excluded.
Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York on May 14 onboard a plane bound for Europe minutes before take-off and later charged with attempting to rape Diallo.
Prosecutors later dropped criminal charges, leaving Strauss-Kahn free to return to his native France, where prosecutors ruled that a separate sex assault complaint filed by a writer concerned an incident that happened too long ago to permit judicial pursuit.
The media furor around Strauss-Kahn has not stopped there. His name has appeared in media reports on a judicial probe into a prostitution ring in the north of France, known as the Carlton Affair.
That relates to the discovery earlier this year of a network that supplied prostitutes to clients of the luxury Carlton hotel in the northern city of Lille.
It quickly blew into a bigger affair with the arrest of eight people — several Carlton managers, businessmen and a local police commissioner — who are now under official inquiry on suspicion of organizing prostitution.
Availing of prostitutes is not illegal in France. Strauss-Kahn has asked investigators for an appointment to explain but not yet been summoned, according to his lawyers, who say he is the victim of a “media lynching.”
(Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by David Cowell)
Mochila insert follows.