A French woman has filed charges against the disgraced former head of the International Monetary Fund, just days after the allegations that he raped a hotel chambermaid in New York began to unravel.
Just as Dominique Strauss-Kahn's legal problems in the US seem to be clearing up, his troubles in France are deepening. A young woman who says Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her in 2003 filed legal charges against him on Tuesday.
The 32-year-old writer Tristane Banon says Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her in 2003 when she went to his apartment for an interview. Banon's lawyer David Koubbi, said she was encouraged to come forward after Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York, but that her case is entirely separate from the New York incident.
A test of the French system
"Her account of what happened is very serious and full of violence. We will file this case with the Paris prosecutor, and if it doesn't go to trial, that will speak volumes about the French justice system," Koubbi said.
Banon alleges the attack occured during a book interview
In a statement from New York, Strauss-Kahn dismissed Banon's account as imaginary, and his lawyers have filed a countersuit for slander. Many are wondering why Banon would wait eight years before bringing the charges. In an interview with French news magazine l'Express, Banon says she was afraid that no one would take her allegations against such a powerful man seriously.
Banon's mother, Anne Mansouret, convinced her not to file charges, saying it would wreck her writing career. Speaking on television, Mansouret now says that was a big mistake.
"I advised her not to because she was very young at the time, and also she was friends with Strauss-Kahn's youngest daughter. And this would have wrecked relations between our families," Mansouret said.
But Banon's story was already known in certain circles.
An open secret
In 2007, Banon took part in a TV reality show around a Paris dinner table. Banon recounted that Strauss-Kahn tried to rip off her jeans. She said the two fought on the floor, and that she kicked him. Strauss-Kahn's name was bleeped at the time, but his identity has since been revealed and millions of people have watched the show and Banon's account on the Internet.
Strauss-Kahn has rejected Banon's charges as 'imaginary'
Strauss-Kahn's allies have been defending him on the airwaves, saying Banon must have been pushed to make the charges by his political enemies.
Though some will certainly consider her an opportunist, others will believe her, says longtime television journalist Jean Marc Illouz. What's important, says Illouz, is that the genie is out of the bottle.
"Whatever the merits of the cases in New York and Paris, in France for the first time there has been a public debate on the role, on the behavior of powerful men, not only in politics, but very often in the workplace. The public debate has taken place-things are changed," Illouz said.
Attempted rape carries a 15-year prison term in France, though the charge will be hard to prove. But analysts say the mere existence of the case will make Strauss-Kahn's return to France very uncomfortable - and most likely bury any chance of him returning to politics.
Author: Eleanor Beardsley, Paris / sh
Editor: Nancy Isenson