- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2011

PARIS (AP) — A French novelist will file a complaint Tuesday accusing Dominique Strauss-Kahn of attempted rape, her lawyer said, raising the prospect of a new sex-assault investigation starting just as the U.S. case against the former International Monetary Fund chief falters.

The announcement threw Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s legal situation in his home country into question and injected fresh uncertainty into a national debate about whether he will be able to return to his political career and enter the 2012 presidential race.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn went on the offensive against his French accuser Tuesday evening, saying through his legal team that he planned to file his own criminal complaint of slander against her.

The sexual assault case against Mr. Strauss-Kahn in New York was weakened badly last week by prosecutors’ publicly expressing doubts about the credibility of the hotel maid who accused him of forcing her to perform oral sex.

As a result, France was consumed Monday morning by the question of whether the longtime Socialist Party politician would — or should — revive his dream of running against unpopular conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s supporters suffered a new shock within hours, when the lawyer for writer and journalist Tristane Banon announced she planned to file the complaint in Paris within a day.

Ms. Banon, 31, said on a 2007 television show that she had been attacked five years earlier by a politician she had interviewed for a book. She later identified the man as Mr. Strauss-Kahn.

“It finished very violently,” she said on the television show. “I kicked him. He opened my bra. He tried to undo my jeans. It finished very badly.”

Lawyer David Koubbi said Ms. Banon had been dissuaded from filing charges by her mother, a regional councilor in Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s Socialist party. Her mother, Anne Mansouret, admitted in a French television interview in May that she had urged her daughter not to file a complaint after the incident.

Ms. Banon came forward again after Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s May 14 arrest in New York, but Mr. Koubbi said his client had no intention of pressing charges while the American prosecution was going on because the two cases should be kept separate.

Ms. Banon now moving forward, Mr. Koubbi told the Associated Press. He denied the decision was connected to the weakening of the U.S. case.

“It is all the same to me what happens in the hours and days to come in the United States,” he said.

Ms. Mansouret, a regional official in Normandy, did not respond to requests for comment.

If Ms. Banon files her complaint, a prosecutor can conduct a preliminary investigation to determine whether there is enough evidence to support charges against Mr. Strauss-Kahn. Preliminary charges are followed by a lengthier investigation, sometimes lasting years, to determine whether the case should go to trial before a judge.

Prosecutors could decide not to pursue the case if they find evidence Mr. Strauss-Kahn engaged in forcible sexual contact that fell short of attempted rape. The statute of limitations on the charge of “sexual assault” is three years, while attempted-rape charges can be filed for as long as 10 years after the alleged crime.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn widely was seen as the leading presidential contender in the months before his arrest, leading many polls.

Before the announcement of the new accusation, the country was split on whether it wanted Mr. Strauss-Kahn back in public life: Two polls showed an almost even division between those who thought he should return and those who believed his political career was over.

“DSK Back?” the left-leaning daily Liberation asked on its front page Monday.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn has relinquished his passport to authorities in New York. Another court hearing would be needed for him to get it back. His next appearance is scheduled for July 18 — five days after the deadline for candidates to register in the Socialist Party primary.

“Let’s acknowledge that if Strauss-Kahn decides to come back as a candidate on our side, no one will try to oppose him using some calendar,” Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry said before Ms. Banon’s announcement.

The Socialist Party’s spokesman appeared to disagree, an indication of the confusion and disagreement within the party about betting the opposition’s chances of defeating Mr. Sarkozy on a man seen by some as a martyr of American injustice and by others as an out-of-touch jet-setter with a history of crude behavior toward women.

“We can’t base the (political) calendar, which involves millions of French people, on the American judicial calendar,” party spokesman Benoit Hamon said Monday.

A poll released Monday found that 51 percent of French people thought Mr. Strauss-Kahn no longer had a political future and 42 percent thought he did.

The telephone poll of 956 adults selected as a demographically representative sample was conducted July 1-2 by the Ipsos Public Affairs institute for the magazine Le Point. No margin of error was provided.

Another poll out Sunday conducted by Harris Interactive poll for the newspaper Le Parisien showed 49 percent of those surveyed saying ‘yes’ to the question “Without prejudging his innocence or guilt, do you want DSK to come back to the French political scene one day?”

At least some were won over by what they perceived as his mistreatment in the United States.

“I had no intention of supporting him in the first round, but if he returns to French political life, I will certainly vote for him,” Jean-Rene Gendre, 63, said as he went shopping in central Paris. “What happened to him, I think, was a terrible manipulation.”

Forty-five percent of respondents to the Harris poll said they didn’t want Mr. Strauss-Kahn back in politics, and 6 percent didn’t answer the question. The agency asked a demographically representative group of 1,000 people 18 years old and older to fill out the July 1-2 online survey. No margin of error was provided.

Mr. Sarkozy’s conservative allies have maintained virtually complete silence on Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, but some appeared to be returning to the normal tenor of a political campaign.

Mr. Sarkozy has been assailed from the left for what some call his bling-bling image and tax policies that critics say favor the rich, in a country proud of its social welfare system and revolutionary past.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn came under some criticism before his arrest for appearing in a friend’s Porsche and for reports he wore highly expensive tailored suits.

After his arrest, he lived under house arrest in a $50,000-a-month town house in Manhattan’s trendy TriBeCa neighborhood.

“Between his luxury tastes and other subjects, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has not offered a very positive image recently,” Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno, a Sarkozy ally, said on Europe-1 radio.

Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

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