US & Canada

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: 'Thunderbolt' news for France

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, centre, leaves a New York court on 6 June 2011
Image caption Will Dominique Strauss-Kahn soon walk free?

In the words of the last Socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, "this is a thunderbolt".

Whatever the merits of this new evidence, whatever the character of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French felt particularly aggrieved at the way the case was conducted in the days after his arrest.

It was not only his reputation that was tarnished, but also that of the French nation in the eyes of the international community.

The "perp walk", the parading of the accused, the headlines such as "Chez Perv" and "Frog Legs It", were widely perceived as insulting and humiliating.

"He was thrown to the wolves," said Lionel Jospin, in his veiled criticism of the American system.

And already the French media is talking about Dominique Strauss-Kahn's rehabilitation; even though there is unambiguous DNA evidence that a sexual encounter did take place.

Potential kingmaker

If the New York Times' report is to be believed - and we have yet to hear what the prosecution make of their own findings - this strikes at the very heart of the case. It questions the credibility of the main witness.

The list for socialist candidates for next year's presidential election is still open and will be for two more weeks.

But it is surely unthinkable that Dominique Strauss-Kahn will re-enter the race.

First, there is the calendar of the court case to consider.

But just as important is that Mr Strauss-Kahn's image, in the eyes of the French public, has been forever tarnished.

Aside from the allegations in New York, there has been too much written about his previous encounters and his questionable behaviour towards women.

His arrest sparked some soul searching in France about attitudes in general towards the treatment of women in the workplace.

The European Association Against Violence Against Women at Work says it has seen a notable increase in the number of reported abuse and harassment cases in recent months, from women who until now were nervous of coming forward.

The prosecution may relax the bail conditions, but it is still likely they will try to press a misdemeanour charge.

Denis Chemla, a French lawyer on the American bar, told LCI television: "There isn't a prosecutor in the States who would take a risk on the basis of discredited evidence like this."

And so we must consider the possibility that DSK will return to France in the next year - as a potential kingmaker.

He will be key in the campaign - wherever his supporters go, then so will the nomination.

It may all spell bad news for the Elysee Palace. In recent weeks, President Nicolas Sarkozy has seen improving poll figures.

But there is a section of French society that clings to the idea this was a set-up. Conspiracies theories of political foul play will get a fresh airing. It could eat in to the president's support.

Jean Marie Le Guen, a leading Socialist lawmaker and ally of Mr Strauss-Kahn, says his friend will be an "indispensable" player in political life in the coming months.

"I hope he will soon be free," he said, "and able to look the French people in the eyes once again."

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