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Strauss-Kahn lawyers assert diplomatic immunity in New York civil case

By Hussein Saddique, CNN
updated 8:06 PM EDT, Wed March 28, 2012
Former IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn enters a Manhattan court last year before criminal charges were dropped.
Former IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn enters a Manhattan court last year before criminal charges were dropped.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dominique Strass-Kahn was head of the International Money Fund
  • Criminal charges that he assaulted a New York hotel housekeeper were dropped
  • But the housekeeper filed a civil suit
  • His lawyers argue that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity, and the suit should be dismissed

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Lawyers for former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn urged a judge on Wednesday to dismiss a civil suit brought against him by the New York hotel housekeeper who accused him of assaulting her last year.

The case "must be dismissed," asserted lawyer Amit Mehta, because Strauss-Kahn enjoyed diplomatic immunity as an "executive of a multilateral organization."

Judge Douglas McKeon told the Bronx courtroom that he would "expeditiously issue a decision" deciding whether the case could proceed.

Strauss-Kahn headed the IMF, an international organization consisting of 187 member-states with headquarters in Washington, D.C. The IMF provides loans to countries that are suffering economic difficulties.

He resigned his position soon after his arrest by New York police in May 2011, when he was charged with criminally assaulting a housekeeper in a Manhattan hotel suite.

The housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo, accused Strauss-Kahn of attempting to rape her when she walked into his suite. Police subsequently removed him from an Air France flight about to depart New York's Kennedy Airport and jailed him before his arraignment in criminal court.

More legal woes for Strauss-Kahn

The arrest of such a high-profile international political figure who was preparing a presidential run in his native France sparked worldwide media interest. But, the criminal case against Strauss-Kahn was later dropped by New York prosecutors, because of credibility issues they cited in Diallo's account.

The interesting life of Dominique Strauss-Kahn

In August, Diallo's lawyers served Strauss-Kahn with a civil suit seeking damages stemming from the alleged assault in the hotel. Lawyer Douglas Wigdor told the court Wednesday that Strauss-Kahn "brutally sexually assaulted" Diallo, arguing that Strauss-Kahn does not enjoy blanket diplomatic immunity from civil action.

As head of the IMF, Strauss-Kahn did enjoy some immunity, but a key sticking point is whether it extended to situations beyond his official duties.

"Immunity is only provided for official actions," argued Wigdor. "Absolute immunity does not apply to all situations."

Strauss-Kahn's lawyers did not invoke his immunity from prosecution during the criminal case. Wigdor ridiculed the fact that they would invoke it in the civil case, but not the criminal case as "piecemeal immunity."

But, Mehta countered that Strauss-Kahn was eager to assert his innocence in the criminal proceedings, and so he didn't invoke whatever immunity he enjoyed as IMF chief.

In the months following the hotel accusation last year, other allegations surfaced. Anne Mansouret, a Socialist member of the French parliament, said Strauss-Kahn had attacked her daughter. A complaint was filed, alleging a 2002 attack, though it could not be pursued because the statute of limitations had expired.

Currently, Strauss-Kahn faces another legal battle -- this time the case centers on an investigation into a high-profile prostitution network operating out of luxury hotels in the French city of Lille. Strauss-Kahn has been formally warned by French authorities that he is under investigation for "aggravated pimping," and has been released on 100,000-euro bail.

CNN's Simon Rushton contributed to this report.

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