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The Scandal That Brought Down Dominique Strauss-Kahn
By John Solomon
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2012 John Solomon
All rights reserved.
"NYPD Needs to Speak with You"
With his bags checked and a half hour to kill before his flight to Paris, Dominique Strauss-Kahn fidgeted inside Air France's VIP lounge at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. He should have been relaxed. After all, it was a beautiful but cool Saturday afternoon in mid-May and the jet-setting International Monetary Fund director had just finished a quick jaunt to Manhattan, where he had enjoyed a romantic evening with a female friend followed by lunch with his daughter Camille.
The trip was the perfect, and perhaps last, interlude he would have before diving back into a restless summer grappling with Europe's stubborn debt crisis and preparing for his likely run for the French presidency. Back home in Paris, the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy was looking particularly vulnerable after an extended recession and countless missteps. And most of the speculation among France's pundits was that Strauss-Kahn, the dean of the French Socialist Party, was poised to become the country's twenty-fourth president and custodian of the world's third largest nuclear arsenal in 2012. Though not even a declared candidate, he was already ahead in the polls, and he overtly lusted for what he saw as his inevitable "rendezvous with the French," an election that would thrust him to the pinnacle of his political career.
Strauss-Kahn knew there would be plenty of time on the plane to start preparing for his IMF meeting the next day with German chancellor Angela Merkel. But the silver-haired sixty-two-year-old Frenchman — known affectionately back home simply as "DSK" — was too distracted to be at ease. He was obsessed over having lost his BlackBerry earlier in the day. The last time he had used the phone was inside the Sofitel when he called his daughter to let her know he would be a few minutes late for lunch. On the cab ride from the restaurant to JFK, he had noticed the device was missing and phoned Camille on one of his spare cell phones to ask her to return to McCormick & Schmicks in Manhattan where they had just dined to see if he had dropped the phone on the floor or left it on a seat. He hadn't seen the BlackBerry since he checked out of the luxury Sofitel Hotel at around 12:30 p.m.
Strauss-Kahn fretted about the phone being out of his control for so long. The sensitive secrets of the IMF's current negotiations with various players in the European debt crisis were sitting in the phone's email inbox. So, too, were records of some of the calls with his secret lover, a married French businesswoman working in New York's financial industry who had sneaked back to his Sofitel suite in the wee hours of that morning for a few hours of romance.
Even under normal circumstances, there was reason to be concerned about the phone falling into the wrong hands. But shortly before breakfast that morning, Strauss-Kahn had received an unnerving text from a friend who was embedded as a researcher in Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party. The friend's text had warned that the rival party had somehow intercepted at least one recent email from Strauss-Kahn's BlackBerry to his wife, the popular French TV journalist and millionaire heiress Anne Sinclair. The IMF boss was instantly worried that someone may have hacked his phone, and he called Anne back in France around 10 a.m., asking her to help arrange for a security expert to sweep both the BlackBerry and his iPad tablet for any malware or tracing devices when he returned to Paris.
But now the phone with the friend's ominous text message warning and its many other tales of international intrigue was gone. And so, too, was any sense of satisfaction from the weekend interlude. As his cab neared the airport, Strauss-Kahn reached into his carry-on bag for one of his backup phones, determined to make one last effort to locate the BlackBerry before the seven-hour flight to Paris.
At 3:29 p.m. on May 14, 2011, he dialed the switchboard of the Sofitel. It was a call that would forever change his life, and the course of history.
After a few transfers and delays, a friendly voice came to the phone.
"Hello, this is Lost and Found," a man who identified himself as a concierge at the Sofitel answered.
"How are you? I am Dominique Strauss-Kahn. I was a guest and I left my phone behind," he explained.
"What room?" the Sofitel employee inquired.
"2806," Strauss-Kahn answered.
"I'll need about ten minutes to go up and search the room for the phone but I have a problem: if your phone is here, how can I call you back?"
"I will give you another number," Strauss-Kahn explained, giving the number from the backup phone he was now calling from.
Strauss-Kahn was relieved to have reached someone willing to search the room. Little did he know at the time that it was a ruse, manufactured by a quick-thinking NYPD detective.
The man who had answered the phone wasn't a Lost and Found concierge, but rather a security official at the Sofitel. And seated alongside him was Detective John Mongiello, coaching him in how to coax information from Strauss-Kahn.
Police had been called to the hotel around 1:30 p.m. to respond to a report that a thirty-two-year-old housekeeper named Nafissatou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant who spoke broken English, had been sexually assaulted by a "man with white hair" who had occupied Suite 2806. The maid had told a convincing and consistent story, first to her hotel colleagues and then to police, that she had been grabbed from behind by a naked, erect man as she entered Strauss-Kahn's suite to clean it shortly after noon that day.
Diallo alleged the man forced the suite's door shut, grabbed her between the legs, and tried to rape her. When unsuccessful in getting her panties off, she said, he pushed her to the ground in a narrow hallway, grabbed her head and forced her to perform oral sex in a rough-and-tumble few minutes that had left her so shaken she still felt like vomiting an hour later.
At first, Diallo was reluctant to report the crime to police, telling her immediate housekeeping supervisor she feared she might lose her job for walking in on a guest in a VIP suite. But she recounted the same story with exacting detail and consistency, first to two housekeeping superiors and then to two hotel security officials. After some coaxing and assurances that she wouldn't be fired, Diallo agreed to report the crime, and the police were called.
It was about two hours since the 911 call. Strauss-Kahn's $3,000-a-night suite — usually a venue for wealthy French guests to sip fine wines and relax in luxury — was now cordoned off as a crime scene. And police had done their initial interviews with Diallo and were taking the woman, still in her housekeeping uniform, to the St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital trauma center for the all-important rape kit and checkup. Diallo did not seem to know her alleged attacker, referring to him only as the "man with the white hair." Police did not want to show a picture of Strauss-Kahn to her or let her know he was one of the world's most powerful men, fearful it might taint any future lineup identification. But a hotel security official Googled a photo of Strauss-Kahn and showed it to Diallo. She affirmed it was her attacker. Police records indicate that "accidental" photo ID happened around 2:30 p.m., after police had arrived at the hotel. Hotel workers, however, remember it occurring twice, once before the police arrived and again after detectives were on scene. Either way, it would later create questions among the defense lawyers about whether Diallo's eventual lineup identification a day later was somehow tainted and whether hotel officials were trying to prompt Diallo to file charges against DSK. The concerns became less relevant when forensics proved that DSK was the man in the room and had had a sexual encounter with Diallo. But the mistakes would portend other investigative missteps that would occur later in the case.
Detectives were still trying to ascertain the Frenchman's whereabouts when the IMF director's call came into the switchboard. Hotel security chief John Sheehan, summoned from the golf course earlier in the afternoon, had told the hotel to flag the security office if Strauss-Kahn called.
Now it had happened. Mongiello, the detective, wanted Sheehan to get two pieces of information critical to finding Strauss-Kahn — his whereabouts and a phone number where he could be reached. The detective listened in on the call and coached Sofitel security on what to say.
The first call from the cab elicited a callback number with little effort. Now the Sofitel had to politely press to find out where Strauss-Kahn was currently located without raising suspicions. Nine minutes after the first call, Sofitel security working with police instructions called Strauss-Kahn back to report, falsely, that it had found his lost BlackBerry. By this time, Strauss-Kahn had exited the cab and reached his gate at the airport.
"Mr. Strauss-Kahn, this is the Sofitel. I have your phone. I need to know where you are so I can return it," the hotel security officer opened, following the police script perfectly.
"I'm at JFK Airport," Strauss-Kahn answered.
A knot formed in the throats of the detectives listening in. The main suspect appeared to be on the lam, ready to flee the country. They needed to think quick.
"Okay, I can be there in forty minutes," the Sofitel security official said.
"I have a problem because my flight leaves at 4:26 p.m.," Strauss-Kahn explained.
"No problem. I will take a cab and be there in forty minutes," the hotel employee answered, putting Strauss-Kahn at ease. Maybe the weekend interlude would turn out just fine if he could recover his BlackBerry before the flight left.
"Okay. I am at the Air France terminal, Gate 4, Flight 23," the relieved Frenchman offered.
"Okay I will see you soon."
The ruse had worked and the police now knew Strauss-Kahn's whereabouts. And they had recorded his statements on the phone in writing, eventually disclosing them in an obscure court filing known as the "People's Voluntary Disclosure Form — Bill of Particulars."
But at that critical moment, detectives knew there was no way they could get to JFK in time from the hotel in midtown Manhattan. The only chance NYPD had to detain Strauss-Kahn and avoid a costly extradition battle in France was to summon the help of the Port Authority police, which controls security at all of New York's airports.
The race was on. Port Authority police needed to work with Air France to ensure the jet did not leave the tarmac and then dispatch two detectives to do the unthinkable — arrest the powerful leader of the International Monetary Fund.
For his part, Strauss-Kahn could take a deep breath and relax momentarily inside the Air France lounge. But perhaps used to instant satisfaction, or still in disbelief that his BlackBerry had been found so conveniently, he began to fidget in his chair. So he called the Sofitel back about twenty minutes later, to leave a prodding message. The flight was about to board.
"I want to speak to the person who is bringing back my phone. When will they arrive?" Strauss-Kahn inquired in his near-perfect English, with just a touch of a French accent. "I am in the Air France lounge. Please call me back at this number."
Another half hour elapsed and Strauss-Kahn boarded Flight 23 as its engines idled at the gate. Soon a flight attendant escorted him from his seat to the accordion-like, retractable hallway that leads from the International Terminal's Gate 4. He was met by two Port Authority detectives in plainclothes, and Strauss-Kahn thought for an instant that they were Sofitel workers who had managed to get there in time to return his BlackBerry.
"Do you have my cell phone?" the Frenchman inquired.
"Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn?" Port Authority detective Dewan Maharaj inquired in a voice far too serious for a cell phone delivery.
"May I see your passport? We would like you to come with us," the detective said in an ominous but polite tone, showing a badge.
"What for?" the diplomat inquired.
The detectives knew they were dealing with a world leader and tried to navigate politely around the obvious. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was about to be yanked from his flight and detained. The police detectives wanted it to be dignified, and out of earshot of the Air France passengers.
"Now is not the time or place to discuss," Maharaj said diplomatically. "Do you have any baggage?"
"Yes," Strauss-Kahn nodded. The detectives grabbed his carry-on bag and escorted him back to the terminal, where he was met by a New York Port Authority police supervisor, Sergeant Raymond DiLena. The seats at the gate were now almost empty and Flight 23 was about to depart without its famous passenger.
"Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn. I am Sergeant DiLena," the officer greeted.
Strauss-Kahn's mind was racing. Could his lover from the night before have turned on him? Or maybe those rumors he had been hearing in France that he was about to be set up had manifested themselves in some sort of Sarkozy-led conspiracy? Could something embarrassing have been found on his BlackBerry or had it been used in a crime since he lost it?
"What is this about?" Strauss-Kahn pressed.
"The NYPD needs to speak with you about an incident in the city at a hotel," the sergeant explained.
Strauss-Kahn did not answer, his face suddenly pale. Could it be that seven minutes of fellatio with a housekeeper — to him a consenting sexual send-off to France — was coming back to haunt him?
It was now 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, May 14, about four and a half hours after the incident — described by the housekeeper as a violent sexual attack — had ended in Suite 2806. The world was about to be exposed to a grotesque sexual scandal that would titillate the media with sensational headlines and tawdry half-truths, rob the IMF of its brilliant yet sexually reckless leader, and test the capabilities of a young, inexperienced Manhattan district attorney.
Strauss-Kahn did not speak as he walked alongside the detectives and their sergeant down the long hallways of the terminal and to the Port Authority precinct at JFK Airport. He was about to be introduced to a new world far removed from the elegant diplomatic circles that had dominated his life for years. In fact, he would not set foot in his IMF office in Washington for months or experience spring in Paris as he had planned.
The dingy gray confines of American police stations and prison cells would become his surroundings for the foreseeable future.
"Please empty the contents of your pockets. Place everything on the table," Detective Maharaj commanded politely after they arrived at the airport's police office. "Would you like water?"
"No. But I would like to use the bathroom," he answered.
"Please, have a seat," the detective instructed.
Strauss-Kahn wasn't ready for the humiliation that would ensue. "Is that necessary?" he asked indignantly as the police detective grabbed his hands and placed them in handcuffs.
"Yes, it is."
"I have diplomatic immunity," Strauss-Kahn protested, a claim that would prove untrue. The detectives were already dubious. They had seen his passport upon exiting the plane and it did not contain the customary markings and declarations of those afforded diplomatic immunity in the United States.
"Where is your passport?" the detective inquired.
"It's not in this passport. I have a second passport," Strauss-Kahn offered.
In fact, back at his IMF office in Washington, D.C., Strauss-Kahn had left a type of diplomatic identification known as a laissez-passer, a special travel document issued by the United Nations for representatives of international organizations like the IMF. It does not afford automatic diplomatic immunity, though it can be used like a passport for travel identification.
The detectives weren't persuaded.
"Can I speak with someone from the French consulate?" Strauss-Kahn persisted. "What is this about?"
Maharaj, the detective, had little to offer. "I work for the Port Authority police. I can't answer these questions for you. NYPD will answer these questions. Would you like some water?"
John Mongiello, the NYPD detective who had shown up at the Sofitel to interview Diallo and arranged the ruse to catch Strauss-Kahn, arrived at JFK just a few minutes later with a colleague. He took Strauss-Kahn to a squad car to be transported to the Special Victims Squad in Harlem, the NYPD unit that investigates sex crimes and had been made famous by the popular TV show Law & Order: SVU.
Strauss-Kahn requested that he be handcuffed in the front to make it easier to walk. In the squad car, the Frenchman inquired anew about what police wanted.
"Manhattan detectives need to speak with you about an incident in a hotel room," Mongiello answered. By this time, DSK knew the matter must have involved the housekeeper, and he was envisioning an extended stay with police. His thoughts immediately turned to the Merkel meeting, and the need to postpone it.
"I need to make a call and let them know I won't be at my meeting tomorrow," he said, asking also that his handcuffs be loosened a bit. They obliged.
Excerpted from DSK by John Solomon. Copyright © 2012 John Solomon. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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