Over the last three days, there has been more than enough reportage of events in and around Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s malign treatment in New York, and the minute dissection of what happened from one minute to the next – from a sexual encounter with Nafissatou Diallo, all the way through to his return to France with rape charges against him dropped. In this piece, The Slog focuses on what may have been ‘mistaken identity’ in relation to the entire operation against DSK.
Does Dominique Strauss-Kahn know exactly when he lost his Blackberry on the fateful day of his encounter with Nafissatou Diallo? We know that he first missed it after lunch with his daughter. And we know that the daughter – almost literally – ransacked the restaurant trying to find it. But to this date, it is still missing.
Over the last two days, I’ve been putting together views and testimony from those involved across three continents. Towards the end of the US part of the saga, I confess that I was coming round to the view that while there were some lessons for US justice to learn – and the Sofitel maid herself (plus her brother) were talking things up well beyond the truth) – a lot of the events seemed too random for there to have been an organised sex-sting against the IMF boss.
The assumption all along was of a sex set-up. But the new evidence (a lot of which, by the way, is hearsay and supposition) points more towards a hacking operation about which DSK had been tipped off. The fact that he was in New York when he found out (having already become suspicious) is probably irrelevant: what does however seem very likely is that the phone was being hacked by French security and/or the UMP.
Nafissatou Diallo continues to press her civil case against Strauss-Kahn today, much to his irritation. I cannot believe that a woman employed as a temptress – when the hour of need for her ‘employers’ to embarrass DSK had long since passed – would continue to press charges. She may well still be motivated by money – but if American intelligence was running her, she’d have been paid off long ago….or disappeared. And anyway, I doubt the CIA would employ such a loose cannon.
I think that the maid may well have blundered into (or been co-opted into) an attempt to steal DSK’s phone.
If you’re a political spook and you intercept a call suggesting you’ve been rumbled (and the phone is going away for analysis) then the first priority becomes getting hold of the phone and destroying it.
Telephone records at the time confirm what DSK said: that he had phoned his wife Anne-Sinclair in Paris earlier that day, and asked her to have analysts lined up to check his phone. A diplomat had allegedly told him that calls to Ms Sinclair had been seen in Elysees Palace intelligence records. Further, we already know that (a) the Elysees Palace knew within ten minutes of the IMF boss’s arrest that he was in custody; and (b) several calls were exchanged between the Sofitel and its owners in France on the subject of DSK’s discomfiture.
Sofitel is owned by a French group with some political connections, but nothing you’d call conclusive. However, phone (and now video) evidence has suggested that the staff were somehow involved in keeping the Elysees at the very least informed. It remains possible that Nafissatou Diallo spent a suspicious amount of time hanging around the area close to his suite as part of an amateur surveillance role. What has always struck me as odd, however, is a maid coming to clean a room on the last day of a guest’s stay….when he’s about to leave anyway. The same is true of another player who has now appeared from nowhere: Syed Haque, a hotel waiter, entered DSK’s room just two minutes before Diallo did. A bright spotlight of suspicion now falls on this man, who has – for no apparent reason – run scared from being interviewed by lawyers acting for Strauss-Kahn.
There is a real possibility that Diallo’s role was to distract DSK while Haque (ironic name) pilfered the evidence of a plot against the Frenchman: his Blackberry.
Is there anything else that might support this speculation in particular, and a botched French operation in general?
Well, equally intriguing is the story of two of Haque’s hotel bosses allegedly on video “high-fiving each other and doing what looks like an extraordinary dance of celebration lasting some three minutes”. I’ve yet to establish the tape’s existence or the identity of the ‘bosses’, but two senior managers celebrating a guest’s demise while being in constant touch with French politicians/spooks would look very odd indeed….if proven.
“It looks to us like Syed Haque holds some of the answers to this,” a DSK supporter told me on Saturday, adding, “Dominique didn’t use the IMF Blackberry at all between ringing Anne first thing, and leaving the restaurant where he had lunch with his daughter. The device was obviously stolen.”
I’d love to pen the headline ‘Slog solves DSK riddle’, but I’m nowhere near that at the moment. I have revisited the original New York financial district contact (who had doubts from Day One about the arrest) and that person finds the theft motive compelling…but remains convinced that the US was involved in some form.
“I think if the French were into phone-hacking for purely domestic political reasons, then I think that makes sense,” the informant told me, “but some big hitters in the US cottoned on pretty fast to the existence of something or other. And Vance kept on delaying things while he looked into what was going on”.
New York DA Cyrus T. Vance did, it’s true, delay DSK’s return to France for no reason as yet apparent. But another NYC source in turn sticks to his belief that the NYPD ,Vance and the FBI were looking for some kind of sting against DSK throughout that period:
“At first they [the DA’s office] were full of it,” says the informant, “but then it all started to go wrong. Next thing we know, you can’t get anything out of these guys. There’s a lot of burrowing, and the Feds are everywhere. Then the whole thing is dropped. It was obvious something they didn’t want to talk about had come to light”.
You may have noticed thus far the regular use of the word ‘obvious’ in all this. But then, some things look obvious and turn out to be something completely different – as this case seems to have revealed over the last four days. By this time, Geithner was involved – whether directly or in the background is hard to say – but he was quick to insist that the waters should close over the IMF Chief. Most observers find it odd that the Federal Reserve Secretary intervened in this manner. As my long-time (and much trusted) Washington mole concludes:
“I think it’s highly likely that there was a desire by us and the French to get Strauss-Kahn out of the IMF game and French politics respectively. I never thought Diallo made any sense as an agent, but the Blackberry theft rings true for me. The French tapped his phone, screwed up, then got lucky. So we got lucky too – and made the most of it”.
This seems a reasonable summation as far as it goes: but as I posted exclusively earlier this year, there is evidence that both Nicolas Sarkozy and the US had Christine Lagarde lined up for the IMF job (and gave her all the help they could to get it) long before DSK’s arrest and subsequent disgrace. This doesn’t prove they were involved in the events at the Sofitel, but the intent is there.
Meanwhile, in Paris this morning the allegations get wilder still from the DSK camp. My informant is, to be honest, on the outer fringes of the Strauss-Kahn supporters club, but he remains firm about black ops against his hero:
“You will have noticed that [DSK] has started a civil suit against the prostitute ring story. He still maintains that most of it was made up and planted by the Elysees. There are also trails leading back to Berlin. There’s a lot more to come out yet.”
We shall see.