- French president party denies claim Dominique Strauss-Kahn was set up
- Ex-IMF chief arrested on charges of sexual assault in New York; charges dropped
- Scandal ended his career at IMF and political ambitions in France
- DSK's lawyer says his client possibly "target of a deliberate effort to destroy him"
A leading figure in French President Nicolas Sarkozy's party, the UMP, has dismissed any suggestion that ex-International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was set up when he was arrested on charges of sexual assault in New York in May.
"To imagine that what would have happened to Mr. Strauss-Kahn would be the object of some sort of complicity from the UMP, it seems too hard to believe," said Jean-Francois Cope, secretary-general of the UMP party.
Charges against Strauss-Kahn were dropped in August after questions were raised over the credibility of his accuser, hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo. However, the scandal ended both his career at the IMF and any hope of the leading Socialist politician challenging Sarkozy in next year's presidential election.
Now an article in the New York Review of Books says Strauss-Kahn suspected a cellphone that disappeared just before his arrest had earlier been hacked. It also describes CCTV footage showing employees of the Sofitel hotel appearing to celebrate after the maid reported the alleged attack.
A female friend of Strauss-Kahn allegedly warned him that an email he had sent had been read at UMP offices in Paris. If this was the case it meant, according to the New York Review of Books, "he had reason to suspect he might be under electronic surveillance in New York. He had already been warned by a friend in the French diplomatic corps that an effort would be made to embarrass him with a scandal. The warning that his BlackBerry might have been hacked was therefore all the more alarming."
The author of the New York Review of Books story, Edward Epstein, told Agence-France Presse: "I didn't say it was a political conspiracy but I would say that people wanted to find evidence of an indiscretion of his that could derail either his (French presidential) candidacy or even (his work at) the IMF."
One of Strauss-Kahn's lawyers, William Taylor, also told the news agency his client was possibly "the target of a deliberate effort to destroy him as a political force." However, Taylor did not say exactly who might be to blame.
In France, right-wing politicians described the entire story as pure fantasy. "For me, if there are facts, if there is clear evidence, of course, it goes without saying that conclusions will have to be drawn," said the UMP's Cope.
"As long as they are only rumors, gossip, allegations on the basis of anonymous testimony, which we know absolutely nothing about, you can understand that we remain a little more reserved and certainly not fooled."
In a television interview following his return to Paris, Strauss-Kahn confessed to a "moral weakness" and an "inappropriate relationship" with Diallo, but denied any violence or aggression. Strauss-Kahn still faces a civil suit from Diallo in New York, but he has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing his job gave him immunity from civil cases.
The New York hotel where the alleged incident was reported also dismissed the story as "inaccurate and speculative." The Sofitel hotel chain released a statement saying: "The article states that two Sofitel employees were seen 'celebrating' on tape for three minutes. In fact, the incident in question lasted only eight seconds and both employees categorically deny this exchange had anything to do with Mr. Strauss-Kahn.
"Sofitel Luxury Hotels has cooperated with law enforcement authorities for the entirety of this case as was its civic and legal obligation. As the civil trial remains pending in the U.S., it would not be appropriate to comment on the facts of the case."