New York: Fallen IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn launched what promised to be a long campaign to clear his name Monday, pleading not guilty to charges that he tried to rape a hotel maid.
Lawyers for the alleged victim, a 32-year-old Guinean woman, said she would testify to a “terrible sex assault,” setting the stage for the dramatic and high-stakes prosecution of one of the world’s most powerful men.
“She’s going to come to the court house, she’s going to tell the truth. What she wants is justice,” lawyer Kenneth Thompson told reporters after a brief, seven-minute plea hearing, describing her as “devastated” and “traumatized.”
“The victim wants you to know that all of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s power, money, and influence throughout the world will not keep the truth about what he did to her in that hotel room from coming out.”
Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys said that whatever happened on May 14 in the Sofitel Hotel, near Times Square, was consensual, indicating that the defense would not seek to challenge that some kind of liaison had taken place.
“It will be clear that there was no element of forcible compulsion in this case whatsoever. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply not credible,” said Benjamin Brafman, one of America’s most successful lawyers to the stars.
Arriving at the Manhattan court, grave-faced, his wife Anne Sinclair on his arm, Strauss-Kahn was met with shouts of “Shame on you! Shame on you!” from around 100 women dressed as hotel maids protesting outside.
The chants were so loud they could be heard through the 13th floor of the court-room where he was asked to enter a formal plea by Judge Michael Obus, as the prying eyes of a frenzied world media, many from France, looked on.
Strauss-Kahn, wearing a dark-blue suit and tie and a light-blue shirt, stood up with his two lawyers, before turning toward the judge and answering in a quiet voice: “not guilty.” The next court hearing was set for July 18.
He pleaded not guilty to all seven counts, including attempted rape, in what prosecutors say was a brutal assault on the woman sent to clean his $3,000-a-night suite at the Sofitel.
The 62-year-old defendant was one of the most influential people in the global economy and widely considered to be a leading contender for the French presidency until his shock arrest on an Air France plane about to depart New York for Paris.
After a humiliating five-night stay on New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail under suicide watch, Strauss-Kahn was released on house arrest after securing a $6 million bond and bail deal.
Only allowed out to visit his lawyers, pray or go to court, he will spend the duration of the trial under armed guard and wearing an ankle monitoring bracelet, although visits from family and a few friends are permitted.
Before Monday’s hearing, Brafman indicated in a letter filed in court that he was unhappy with media leaks airing the evidence, which claims to show that the French politician’s semen was found on the maid’s shirt.
In the US pre-trial process known as “discovery,” parties are obliged to answer questions about their opponent’s evidence collection. Prosecutors have told Brafman that he will be given materials, but in the proper time.
In an interview broadcast Sunday, Brafman told France’s M6 television show “66 Minutes” that his client will be acquitted.
“We have a chance to win in this case because I don’t think Mr Strauss-Kahn is guilty of the charges. I believe he’s going to be exonerated,” he said.
Strauss-Kahn’s arrest and quick resignation from his post as head of the International Monetary Fund threw the global lender and economic policy powerhouse into disarray as it grapples with debt crises in the European Union.
Many in France believe that the Socialist party figure has been mistreated, but the case has also stirred unusually vigorous debate in the country over long-taboo subjects such as sexual harassment.
Strauss-Kahn, whose wife is an American-born art heiress and famous former French television journalist, is spending vast sums on his defense. Just the bill for his home detention costs some $200,000 a month, according to prosecutors, while rental for his TriBeCa townhouse is estimated at $50,000 a month.
In addition to Brafman, Strauss-Kahn is employing private investigators believed to be digging into the personal life of the maid. Lawyers claim to have information that could “gravely undermine” her position, but they have not given more detail.
The prosecution is also led by big guns Joan Illuzzi-Orbon and Ann Prunty. Illuzzi-Orbon is head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s hate crimes unit.