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France Europe

Who is the French writer accusing Strauss-Kahn of sex crimes?

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2011-09-29

The second woman to accuse former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of attempted rape is known in France as a wealthy young novelist and the daughter of a prominent Socialist politician. But there’s a lot more to Tristane Banon than meets the eye.

Brought up in the comfort of Paris’s left-wing bourgeoisie, the second woman to file charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn for attempting to rape her is a far cry from his first accuser. Nonetheless, Tristane Banon has her own past – she’s just more willing to talk about it.

Baron: Who's who?

The father: Gabriel Banon is a businessman and former economic advisor to late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He abandoned Tristane when she was born and the pair have barely seen each other since.

The mother: Anne Mansouret, born in Iran and brought up in France, gave birth to Tristane Banon in 1979, aged 33. She is a prominent member of France’s Socialist Party and a regional councillor for Upper-Normandy.

The godmother: Brigitte Guillemette is the second wife of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Raised in the elite Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, where Nicolas Sarkozy was mayor for 18 years, Tristane Banon looks like a typical product of her surroundings. After graduating from a top journalism school in Paris, she started freelancing at weekly magazine Paris Match and then at conservative daily Le Figaro. At just 24, she had already published her first book, “Erreurs avouées... (au masculin)”.

Look a little closer, however, and her story isn’t as rosy as it first seems. Abandoned at birth by her father Gabriel Banon, she was raised by her mother, Socialist Party member Anne Mansouret. Banon claims her mother, a busy socialite, had no time for her daughter. On her official website, Banon describes herself as “the product of an incompetent father” and “a mother who was busy juggling her job as a CEO – rare for a woman of her generation – and a jam-packed social life.”

She goes on to say she “grew like a weed”, determined to make good from bad, acquiring a “contradictory attitude” along the way.

Clearly absorbed by her past, Banon devoted her first novel to Mansouret, on whose “horrible indifference” she blames her “ruined childhood”. The part-autobiographical story tells of a little girl left to fend for herself against an abusive, grossly fat and alcoholic nanny, deprived of contact with her mother. Banon repeated the claims this week in an interview with political weekly L’Express, while Mansouret has never denied them.

Mother a friend of Strauss-Kahn

Banon's lawyer: 'These charges will be pursued'

Banon met Strauss-Kahn in 2002, when she was interviewing politicians about their “biggest ever mistakes”, the subject of a book she was writing at the time. It was during her interview with Strauss-Kahn that she claims he made one of his biggest mistakes – and potentially the most damaging to his criminal record.

Banon spoke candidly of that incident for the first time in 2007, on a televised chat show aired by France’s Paris Première channel. “It finished really violently,” she said. “We fought on the floor. It wasn't a case of a couple of slaps. I kicked him, he unhooked my bra, he tried to open my jeans,” she said.

Unfortunately for Banon, the revelation was made in such a bizarre setting that it was difficult to take her seriously. The chat show in question saw Banon joined by half a dozen celebrities at a candlelit faux-dinner party. Recounting the tale with a smile on her face, Banon was egged on by her fellow guests. “I love it!” exclaimed one, as she described how Strauss-Kahn tried to rip off her bra. As she went on to explain why she didn’t press charges, the scene cuts to a picture of the on-set chef piping cream into dessert pastries…

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: portrait of a political heavyweight

It was her mother who initially dissuaded Banon from reporting Dominique Strauss-Kahn to the police when she was allegedly attacked by the Socialist politician in 2002. Banon says that her mother mentioned family ties as the reason to refrain from filing charges. But it is widely believed in France that Mansouret’s concerns were rather more political as she belongs to the same party as Strauss-Kahn.

Healthy imagination?

In a more recent (and this time seemingly straight-faced) interview about the incident, Banon told L’Express magazine Tuesday that she had previously omitted the worst of the details, including Strauss-Kahn’s “fingers in my mouth, his hands in my underwear”. She also explained why she had finally decided to press charges. “I can’t take it anymore, hearing that I must be lying because I haven’t filed suit,” she told the magazine.

Not everyone is convinced. Some of Strauss-Kahn’s more determined supporters believe Banon to be working for French President Nicolas Sarkozy in discrediting his potential rival. While Strauss-Kahn creeps closer to escaping US justice, a new legal fight in France would crush any remaining hope that he may run for president.

Banon, meanwhile, could be facing charges of her own. Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers threatened to sue her for defamation Tuesday, dismissing her account of the attempted rape as “imaginary”.


Date created : 2011-07-06


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