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Strauss-Kahn prosecution enlists French legal help

The legal team leading the prosecution of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn has gone on the offensive in enlisting a prominent French lawyer, Thibault de Montbrial, to locate any of Strauss-Kahn's alleged past victims.


For the last several weeks, France has stood by watching as one of its most prominent international figures, fallen IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been processed by the US justice system following his arrest on sexual assault charges. But now, one of France's own will be jumping into the legal fray unfolding on the other side of the Atlantic.

The team of New York lawyers representing the 32-year-old Guinean hotel maid who accused Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her have asked Paris-based lawyer Thibault de Montbrial to help dig up previous victims of the French politician, news reports on Thursday stated.

The 42-year-old Montbrial, described in the French press as an avid athlete who loves football and combat sports, is not considered “one of the star criminal lawyers in France”, according to French daily Le Monde’s legal correspondent Pascale Robert Diard.

Still, he is “very respected and has worked on some of the big French political and financial cases”, she said.

Those cases include the infamous Clearstream trial – Montbrial served as lawyer for accused former EADS head Jean-Louis Gergorin – and the defence of Renault executive Matthieu Tenenbaum, accused of spying.

Montbrial has also played a prominent role in certain international cases, representing the families of victims of the Karachi bombings and victims of former Tunisian President Ben Ali’s regime.

According to Pascale Robert Diard, Montbrial is not, however, known for working on cases involving rape or sexual assault.

Hunt for witnesses or ‘communications operation’?

Montbrial, contacted by France 24 on Friday, declined to comment. But a day earlier, he told Reuters that he was chosen, because the legal team representing Strauss-Kahn’s accuser, led by Kenneth Thompson and Douglas Wigdor, were “looking for an attorney in France who had a certain amount of visibility and independence in France, where this is a very complicated case”.

According to reports, several high-profile French lawyers had been short-listed by New York legal team of Strauss-Kahn’s accuser, with proficiency in English among the criteria.

Thompson and Wigdor, the accuser’s main lawyers, cannot directly intervene in the criminal trial of Dominique Strauss-Kahn – which officially pits Strauss-Kahn against the people of the state of New York – but they can collaborate with prosecutors.

In early June, Thompson appeared on French TV, calling for other women to come forward if they, too, had been attacked by Strauss-Kahn.

There are two possible motivations behind a publicised search for former victims of any possible sexual misconduct by Strauss-Kahn, Pascale Robert Diard explained.

“Either they really think they can find women to testify against [Strauss-Kahn], or it’s a big communications operation intended to show the other side that those leading the case against Strauss-Kahn are on the offensive,” she assessed.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s defence team has, in turn, explicitly asked the prosecution if they intend to talk about past claims of unwanted sexual advances by their client when the trial opens; the prosecution has not yet responded.

Strauss-Kahn remains under house arrest in New York City and has pleaded not guilty to the charges of attempted rape, sex abuse, a criminal sex act, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching. If he is convicted, he could serve up to 25 years in prison.

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