Strauss-Kahn prosecutor refuses to leave case
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Lawyers for the woman at the heart of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case said Wednesday that chief prosecutor Cyril Vance's office leaked information that undermined her claims and called for Vance to leave the case.
REUTERS - The New York prosecutor under fire for his handling of the sexual assault case against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was hit with a new salvo on Wednesday when lawyers for the accuser asked him to leave the case and appoint a special prosecutor.
The request came even though prosecutors left in place sexual assault charges against Strauss-Kahn after a two-hour meeting with his defense lawyers on Wednesday, pledging to further investigate a case that appeared to be falling apart.
As chief prosecutor, District Attorney Cyrus Vance represents the state of New York and by extension is an advocate for the accuser, a 32-year-old hotel maid from Guinea. But lawyers for the woman blamed Vance’s office for undermining their own case by leaking damaging information about her.
“District Attorney (Cyrus) Vance, we ask in earnest that your office voluntarily recuse itself from the Strauss-Kahn case and that you appoint a special prosecutor,” Kenneth Thompson, the lawyer for woman, wrote in a letter dated Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for Vance dismissed the request as “wholly without merit.”
“We strongly disagree with how the office and the work of the assistant district attorneys have been characterized,” Erin Duggan, chief spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, said in a statement.
Any appointment of a special prosecutor would be made by New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo and there would have to be very clear evidence of a conflict of interest for him to do that, one legal expert said.
“I don’t think there is any chance of this being successful,” said Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman in White Plains, New York. “There is no conflict of interest here. It’s a stunt, I think.”
The meeting between Vance’s team and Strauss-Kahn’s defense team had been highly awaited after The New York Times reported they would discuss whether the charges could be dismissed or resolved through a plea agreement.
“The investigative process is continuing, and no decisions have been made,” a spokeswoman for the district attorney said, an indication prosecutors believe physical evidence suggests an assault took place regardless of any lies the accuser may have told previously.
Serious charges including sexual assault and attempted rape remain in place against the man once seen as a top contender for the French presidency. If convicted, Strauss-Kahn faces up 25 years in prison.
“We had a constructive meeting. That’s all we’re going to say,” defense lawyer Benjamin Brafman told a battery of reporters after emerging from the meeting.
Reputations on the line
It was uncertain whether Vance attended. An elected official whose reputation could be on the line with the high-profile case, Vance has insisted his team acted properly in the face of criticism that he rushed the case.
A New York judge released Strauss-Kahn from house arrest and lifted strict bail conditions on Friday after prosecutors revealed problems with the accuser’s credibility.
She lied about being gang-raped in her home country in her application for U.S. asylum and changed details of her story about what she did after her encounter with Strauss-Kahn in a luxury suite, among other contradictions, prosecutors said.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, was next scheduled for a court date on July 18, and speculation was building that prosecutors may have to drop the charges, which Strauss-Kahn has vigorously denied.
The woman who replaced Strauss-Kahn as managing director of the International Monetary Fund, former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, called on the media to respect the presumption of innocence for Strauss-Kahn, adding that she had spoken with him over the phone in a professional capacity.
“The most important thing is to respect the presumption of innocence, and I think it would be great if the media did too,” Lagarde told France 24 television.
“It was strictly professional and related exclusively to my role as his successor,” she said of their conversation.
Lagarde clinched the top job on June 28 and took over on Tuesday, immediately having to focus on the Greek debt crisis.
Women’s rights advocates in turn have shown their support for the Guinean accuser, condemning the media and prosecutors for “character assassination” while also showing support for Strauss-Kahn’s French accuser, Tristane Banon.
“We call on the Manhattan District Attorney, as well as prosecutors and courts around the world, to ensure that Hawa, Tristane Banon and all other women and girls with the courage to come forward and press charges are treated with sensitivity and respect,” Equality One, a women’s rights advocacy group, said in a statement, using a pseudonym for the accuser.
Banon, a French writer, filed a complaint on Tuesday alleging Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her during an interview in a Paris apartment in 2003, when she was 22.