Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tristane Banon's attempted rape claim against Dominique Strauss-Kahn: why François Hollande wishes it would go away

François Hollande, France's Socialist front-running presidential candidate, wishes the Tristane Banon case would go away, says Anne-Elisabeth Moutet in Paris.

Tristane Banon, a French writer, has accused Mr Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her
Tristane Banon, a French writer, has accused Mr Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her Photo: AFP/GETTY

"This has nothing to do with me," Hollande said testily on Friday, after being interrogated by the police on what exactly Miss Banon's mother, a fellow-Socialist politician, had told him at the time of her daughter's alleged sexual assault by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, also a Socialist.

"The French are bored with this whole case. The Right is using smear tactics against me, but it will backfire. France deserves a higher class of debate."

Tristane Banon is the young French writer who in various talk shows and interviews over the past four years has accused the former French finance minister and IMF director general of attempting to rape her eight years ago - to general indifference but without contradiction.

She finally filed her complaint last month, after seeing the New York case against Strauss-Kahn, on broadly similar charges, seemingly disintegrate.

"I saw him having his bail money returned and walking free," Banon said in an interview to the magazine l'Express, "and immediately going out to dinner in a luxury restaurant. Meanwhile people called me a liar. It made me sick."

At first the DSK sex scandal seemed to destroy the best hopes the Socialist opposition had to finally seize power next year. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in every poll, appeared a shoe-in in next year's presidential election, with a lead of 20 points and more over the embattled Nicolas Sarkozy.

This, as well as sheer embarrassment over the "unseemly" American case, made most Socialist leaders, including Strauss-Kahn's rivals, suspect a trap, a Gaullist "black op". Much was made of the fact that the hotel chain, Sofitel, where DSK stayed and allegedly assaulted a chambermaid, belongs to a French corporation whose CEO is in good terms with Mr Sarkozy.

Then the New York prosecutors themselves revealed that DSK's New York accuser, who had lied on various statements and her asylum-seeker visa application, would be an unreliable witness, opening the way to a possible dismissal of the case. In the meantime, a DSK presidential candidacy, still desperately touted by his friends, nevertheless looked increasingly impossible, and the party reorganised itself to field at least three major candidates in its October primaries.

For Hollande, who is now consistently given as next year's winner against the unpopular Sarkozy in polls, it could have looked, after all, as if the whole affaire had opened the way to the top job.

And then his name was given to the police, as a corroborating witness, by Miss Banon's mother, who said that she had asked for his advice, as the Socialist party leader at the time, and that he counselled her to sue. Asked point-blank in interviews, Mr Hollande flubbed his answers. He didn't remember; it was a long time ago; it was not his role to give judicial advice; well, yes, he did remember "vaguely something."

Gradually an increasing number of facts in Miss Banon's story started to check out – for instance, the address of the bachelor's flat where she said she had her disastrous meeting with him, 13 rue Mayet, in Paris near Montparnasse, turned out to be the same address Strauss-Kahn gave to a fellow Socialist female MP, Aurélie Filipetti, for an assignation she refused. And as they did so, Mr Hollande's denials became even more qualified.

After all, yes, Mrs Mansouret (Tristane Banon's mother) had indeed told him of "an incident" at the time, but "not in any detail." At any rate, it was he himself who had requested to be heard by the police, in a spirit of "complete transparency." He would sue anyone trying to implicate him in something that was "none of his concern."

"From now on, I shall take any mention of this as a political manipulation against me and my party," he said.

Ms Filipetti, who is on the record as saying, after an alleged "forceful grope" by DSK a couple of years ago, that she would take "very good care never to find herself alone in a room with him", has meanwhile also been heard by the police on Friday, since Ms Mansouret has produced emails from her in which she recommended Tristane file a complaint, and called DSK "dangerous for women."

The 38-year-old Filipetti is a remarkable character in her own right, with a reputation for being principled and fearless. A former Green councillor, she left them for the Socialists over matters of policy, including what she called at the time their "toxic anti-Israeli bias" – an increasingly unpopular stance on the Left. The daughter of a Lorraine Communist miner who was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to concentration camp for being a Résistant, she has written an acclaimed, sensitive autobiography about the vanishing French working class.

Yet on Friday she was uncharacteristically reticent about her police hearing. "I only did my duty as a citizen," she said, thereafter toeing the party line about "right-wing manipulating tactics".

Meanwhile, next year's other main Socialist hopefuls, who happen to be two women, current party leader and Lille Mayor Martine Aubry, as well as Ségolène Royal, the mercurial outsider who lost to Sarkozy in 2007, have also been strangely silent over the Banon case.

Aubry, who is herself being targeted in internet rumours accusing her, somewhat inconsistently, both of being an Islamist sympathiser and of having a drink problem, has issued a statement in support of her bitter rival Hollande, to the effect that he was the victim of a "political manoeuvre".

Royal, Hollande's former life partner (they have four children), who made much of her "feminism" during her 2007 campaign – in which she accused the other male candidates, who included, of trying to "railroad her" – has not piped up with a word upon the subject.

François Hollande professes "outrage" at what he calls "dirty tricks" – in which he includes a large front-page headline in Le Figaro, the centre-right daily, announcing that he would be heard by the police, under side-by-side pictures of himself and of Miss Banon. Le Figaro belongs to planemaker Sarge Dassault, a friend of Nicolas Sarkozy, whose dread hand the Socialists see behind the whole Banon lawsuit.

Mr Hollande believes readers would far rather find analyses on France's dire economic situation than sensational accusations by comely young women that implicate major political figures in their newspapers. This is a sentiment that he probably shares with every other candidate in next year's election, but right now it is doing nothing for his popularity in France.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: what happens when a 'nobody’ takes him on

A young woman is feeling the full force of France’s Establishment.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn and French journalist and writer Tristane Banon, who has accused the former IMF chief of attempted rape - What happens when a 'nobody’ takes on DSK
Dominique Strauss-Kahn and French journalist and writer Tristane Banon, who has accused the former IMF chief of attempted rape Photo: AFP

It didn’t take long for the vilification of Tristane Banon to take off. Sleazy pictures of the young writer who has accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of attempted rape nine years ago have started circulating online, along with barbed comments about how she “didn’t dislike a bit of a grope”, and worse.

Anonymous web users can’t find words scathing enough for her writing, her career, her books, and, oh, how “implausible” her allegations against DSK are. Her mother, Anne Mansouret, is described as a monster, both egging her on and preventing her from filing a complaint years ago. Banon, meanwhile, is a nymphomaniac, or a fabulist, or both, and did you know that she sometimes writes for a centre-Right news site? Sarkozy put her up to it…

You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to detect the heavy hand of spin doctors here. Orchestrating smear campaigns these days is a doddle, thanks to the internet. Not that every other method hasn’t been used as well against any single female mentioned in connection with DSK’s alleged womanising.

As I reported on DSK, I started receiving some strange calls. One PR rang out of the blue and launched into scurrilous accusations about Banon, as well as the Socialist MP Aurélie Filipetti, whom I had quoted as saying she would “take great care never to find herself alone in a room with Strauss-Kahn”. “You’re sophisticated,” my caller said, with an ugly laugh, “you know what they’re like, these women…” Suddenly I felt in need of a long shower.

As it happens, I find Tristane Banon credible. She did not go to the police at the time, but made the allegation on a TV chat show in 2007, when DSK’s name was bleeped out (it was printed in full in a magazine’s account of the show).

And I can understand how a mother might have hesitated to let her 22-year-old daughter take on a respected statesman in a “he said-she said” dirty tussle in France, a country where credit always goes to the “important” personality against a “nobody”; a country where established editors are quick to belittle anyone, especially women, who doesn’t fall in with the general consensus.

“She would have been destroyed – she would have been reduced to that single accusation, just when she was starting out,” a regretful Mrs Mansouret has since said; and there are people who are trying to ensure exactly that happens now.

Tristane Banon may have held her tongue back then, but she was hurt all the same. Her assignments for Paris-Match and Le Figaro suddenly dried up; her book was bowdlerised by her own publisher; she says she received threatening text messages from one of Strauss-Kahn’s less savoury spin doctors. She had a breakdown and still suffers from bouts of anorexia.

She’s 32 now, but her waif-like silhouette, with too sharp bones under transparent skin, dressed in an adolescent’s ripped jeans and a gaping T-shirt, looks as though her development was arrested with the assault.

“Nobody seemed to listen or believe me, and I wanted to take some control over what had happened to me,” she said by way of explanation when filing her suit. She may not have a legal case, but I admire her courage in coming forth.

If the single result is to expose the underhand methods employed to keep DSK in the presidential race, Tristane Banon will have performed a major service for France.

© Copyright Telegraph Media Group & Anne-Elisabeth Moutet 2011

Saturday, July 2, 2011

It's all smiles in Manhattan for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but in France sexual politics has changed for ever

For Dominique Strauss-Kahn, it was all smiles as he walked out of court. But back in France there has been a tectonic change in attitudes, writes Anne-Elisabeth Moutet.

For Dominique Strauss-Kahn, it was all smiles as he walked out of court. But back in France there has been a tectonic change in attitudes, writes Anne-Elisabeth Moutet.
Strauss-Kahn and his wife Anne Sinclair leave the apartment where they are staying in New York Photo: AFP

The photograph of Dominique Strauss-Kahn smiling with his glamorous wife, Anne Sinclair, as a free man in New York speaks volumes.

Everything about their appearance and demeanour telegraphs "victory", in this legal wrangle worthy of a television courtroom drama.

But, regardless of the outcome, the allegations that have emerged, both in court and in the media, about Mr Strauss-Kahn's escapades have caused a tectonic change in French politics, where habitual sexism and routine male straying were once seen as harmless.

French male politicians seemed slow on the uptake, but the women made up for it in spades. Seven of them, from the far Right to the far Left, and including two cabinet ministers, promptly denounced the chauvinism of their colleagues in scathing tones.

"I never wear a skirt when I come to the National Assembly for Wednesday's questions," disclosed Chantal Jouanno, the secretary of state for sports, and a former karate national champion, explaining thatSophie rude gestures, catcalls and jeers were so habitual among male MPs that they were never recorded or censured.

In a country where the most stringent privacy laws in the Western world are usually supported by public opinion and editors, suddenly the media were re-examining their choices. "Investigative reporting must stop at the bedroom door" had once been a mantra.

A couple of weeks ago, Le Monde, France's most austere broadsheet, where "all the news that's fit to print" had for half a century mostly meant arcane political and economics features written in high jargon, gave pride of place on most of its page three to a long piece on Strauss-Kahn's alleged escapades. This included the name and address of a swingers dining club where he was apparently known to habitués as "Le Ministre", and a police report on his having been surprised enjoying a prostitute's favours in a parked car in the Bois de Boulogne in 2007.

This was strong, indeed unprecedented, stuff.

A few days later, a Gaullist junior minister, Gorges Tron, who is also the mayor of his suburban town, got accused of sexual assault by two City Hall employees who alleged that he had abused them during reflexology foot massage seances he was, it was disclosed, in the habit of giving women in a specially appointed office. That this bizarre arrangement, on City time and presumably budget, was allowed to go on for years showed how much French politicians believed they could get away with.

Mr Tron, in time-honoured fashion, accused the women of political manoeuvring, and one of them of theft. But he was ordered by Nicolas Sarkozy to resign from the cabinet; and the National Assembly promptly voted to lift his MP's immunity, meaning he will have to fight charges in a criminal court in the coming months. The feeling in France was that this would never have happened before "L'Affaire DSK".

Now, however, if you are to believe the Socialist luminaries being interviewed all day on television after the latest developments in New York, everything is supposed to go back to square one.

Never mind that, as the alleged victim's lawyer said, "you can be a liar and still have been raped". "Dominique" was coming back: the white knight of the Socialist primaries. "It has all been a nightmare," as Jack Lang, the former culture minister said. The philosopher Bernard Henri-Lévy, a prominent proponent of DSK's innocence, expressed his "happiness".

It remains to be seen whether French women will cave in meekly. This, to put it mildly, is very unlikely.

"Are we supposed to go back to our baskets nicely like before?" the novelist and feminist Sophie Chauveau asked. "I think not. You can't put this toxic paste back into the tube now."

Mr Sarkozy, who remained silent throughout L'Affaire, is watching with interest. Soon to be a father again, his own wife's wealth a pittance next to Miss Sinclair's, he feels that the character and extravagant habits he has been excoriated for in the past are no longer the issue for him, but rather for his adversary.

© Copyright Telegraph Media Group & Anne-Elisabeth Moutet 2011