The Dominique Strauss-Kahn conspiracy theory: the truth must be out there

“Parole contre parole”. This is the neat French expression for a situation that comes down to one person’s word against another's. I often heard it in the newsroom at the height of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, following the Frenchman's arrest in New York in May on suspicion of attempting to rape a chambermaid, Nafissatou Diallo. In the end, New York prosecutors dropped all the criminal charges against “DSK”, as he is known here in France, in August.


This week the phrase again took on particular significance. But unlike earlier this year, when it was simply Strauss-Kahn’s word against Diallo’s, this week the verbal joust involved new protagonists. It pits Edward Jay Epstein and Michel Taubmann - respectively an American investigative journalist and Strauss-Kahn’s official biographer - against the Sofitel hotel where the then-IMF boss stayed, France's ruling right-wing UMP party, and Diallo’s lawyers. Epstein suggests in a long article in The New York Review of Books, and Taubmann in a new book about Strauss-Kahn, that the latter was set up that fateful day in New York. The Sofitel and the UMP party, who would be prime suspects in any plot, hotly deny these allegations. As for Diallo’s lawyers, they have dismissed them as “complete fantasy”.


Dominique Strauss-Kahn in October. (Photo: AFP).


The “conspiracy theory” does not just allege that the sexual encounter with the maid, now undisputed, was consensual. Taubmann goes further and alleges that Diallo actually eyed up Strauss-Kahn suggestively when he got out of the shower. He was then “unable to resist” the temptation of a “moment of pleasure”. In other words, she could have been a Cold War-style honey trap to set him up and subsequently ruin his reputation, perhaps to prevent him running for the French presidency (we find out from Taubmann that DSK was indeed planning to run before he got arrested). If true, this is an extremely serious accusation which would have involved complicity at the highest levels of government. As for Epstein, he is more cautious but highlights the “grey areas” in the case where we are still waiting for satisfactory answers.


Despite my head now spinning from trying to digest all of this new information, I would just like to make a few points, since I admit I am not much further forward in getting to the truth.


  • The “conspiracy theory” centres on the allegation that Strauss-Kahn’s BlackBerry – which he was told had been hacked, according to Epstein – was somehow hidden or stolen before he left his hotel room. Taubmann alleges that Diallo could have stolen it. In any case, Strauss-Kahn did not realise it was missing until after he had lunch with his daughter. As we know, he then phoned the Sofitel saying he had left his BlackBerry there and asked them to look for it, thereby allowing the police to arrest him shortly afterwards at JFK airport, much to his dismay. This phone call appears crucial. Would Strauss-Kahn really have done that if he had just tried to rape a maid at the hotel?
  • Strauss-Kahn’s name is repeatedly brought up here in the French media in connection with a high-level prostitution ring centring on the luxury Carlton hotel in the northern French city of Lille. An article in the French magazine L’Express on the Carlton case, based partly on leaked police testimony, goes into lurid detail about Strauss-Kahn’s sex life and claims he attended swingers’ parties in Washington, DC in the days just before his arrest in New York. This article seems to have shocked quite a lot of people in France by its detail. But I think it is also highly significant. If Strauss-Kahn was having consensual sex left, right, and centre, would he really have forced himself on the chambermaid? We are also told by French news agency AFP that Strauss-Kahn was caught on camera taking a mysterious blonde woman back to the Sofitel the very night before his arrest.
  • The timing of Epstein’s article and Taubmann’s book is important. The civil suit brought by Diallo against Strauss-Kahn in the US is still pending. A Bronx jury will decide if DSK should pay Diallo damages which could in theory reach millions of dollars. Hence the current media offensive.
  • The civil case does not bode well for Strauss-Kahn, since Paris prosecutors concluded back in October that there was evidence he sexually assaulted a French writer, Tristane Banon, back in 2003 (the charges were however too old to prosecute). One of Diallo’s lawyers recently met with Banon’s lawyer here in Paris in preparation for the civil suit.


Like I say, I am not much further forward in understanding what happened, which is perhaps the most frustrating thing about this whole case. After all, there are only a few scenarios that could reasonably have occurred.


To sum up, I would like to link to a video about the assassination of John F. Kennedy that is a cautionary tale against conspiracy theories. The message, while perhaps not so relevant to this particular case, is that there is an explanation for everything - albeit not necessary a simple one. In other words, to pinch the tag line from the 1990s American sci-fi TV series “The X-Files”: the truth is out there.

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