Two employees of the Sofitel hotel in New York walk into what appears to be a storage room, exchange a few words, and then break into a “dance of joy” – as it is has been termed in the French media – ending with an emphatic shoulder bump. The entire sequence, captured by a Sofitel security camera, lasts barely ten seconds and there is no soundtrack on the video and hence no way of knowing what exactly inspired the two men’s good cheer. Nonetheless, the leaked footage has revived longstanding rumors that former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was the victim of a “conspiracy” to derail his French presidential aspirations last May, when, on his account, he accepted a Sofitel maid’s generous offer of some quick oral gratification just prior to check-out – and famously found himself arrested and accused of sexual assault a few hours later.
The buzz surrounding the footage was heightened by the publication about a week prior to its release of an “investigative report” by Edward Jay Epstein. Epstein’s report appeared in the New York Review of Books, thus adding an unusual touch of gravitas to his findings. Epstein does not name his sources, but it is obvious that he enjoyed the cooperation of Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers. It was presumably the latter who fed Epstein the evidence cited in his article. After all, who else – apart from the supposedly “incriminated” hotel management – would have had access to Sofitel security camera footage? This makes it all the more curious that Epstein claimed that the allegedly suspicious employee “dance” scene lasted a full three minutes.
But if Dominique Strauss-Kahn was indeed the victim of a conspiracy in New York in May, then, in light of more recent developments in France, it is clear that the greatest beneficiary of this conspiracy will turn out to have been none other than Strauss-Kahn’s own Socialist party. For in the meanwhile, Strauss-Kahn became engulfed in yet another sex-related crime investigation is his native country. Had he managed to resist temptation and avoid the “trap” at the Sofitel, he might then have returned home to win the French Socialist primaries in October, as it was widely expected before the Sofitel incident that he would. In that case, the French Socialist party would today find itself stuck with a presidential candidate who risks facing charges not of sexual assault, but “merely” of aiding and abetting in the organization of a prostitution ring. No wonder, then, that one Socialist party activist, cited by the French newsweekly L’Express, has suggested that the Socialists should “put up a statue to Nafissatou Diallo,” the Sofitel maid.
Strauss-Kahn refrained from jumping back into the fray of the Socialist primaries after New York prosecutors dropped charges against him in August. The fact that he still faced sexual assault charges in France undoubtedly complicated matters. The latter charges were filed by Tristane Banon, a young writer and daughter of one of Strauss-Kahn’s colleagues in the French Socialist party. Banon accused Strauss-Kahn of having assaulted her in an empty Parisian apartment in 2003. While recognizing that “acts that could be qualified as sexual assault” had indeed occurred, French prosecutors would eventually decline to pursue the charges, judging that the statute of limitations had expired.
Despite both the “Sofitel affair” and the accusations of Tristane Banon, however, there was still talk in Paris of Strauss-Kahn returning to politics someday. Since the emergence of his name in connection with the so-called Carlton affair, that talk has ceased. It is now generally acknowledged – even by Strauss-Kahn supporters – that his political career is over. This is as much due to the facts to which Strauss-Kahn has already admitted as the charges that he could eventually face.
The “Carlton affair” takes its name from the luxury Carlton hotel in the northern French city of Lille. It was here that certain members of hotel management are supposed to have proposed to clients to reserve a “package” with their rooms: code for a prostitute. The “packages” were allegedly supplied by a brothel operator in Belgium who goes by the colorful alias Dodo La Saumure – or, roughly, “Briney Dodo.”