We did not smear Strauss-Kahn, insists Sarkozy's party

By John Lichfield

Suggestions the French ruling party may have been involved in a plot to disgrace former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn were dismissed as "fantasy" yesterday by one of President Nicolas Sarkozy's closest allies.

The French Interior Minister, Claude Gueant, said an article in the New York Review of Books amounted to "guesswork and rumours".

In the article, journalist Edward Jay Epstein raised a number of disturbing questions about events before and just after Strauss-Kahn's arrest in New York in May for the alleged attempted rape of a chambermaid in the Manhattan Sofitel.

At the time, Strauss-Kahn, 62, a former Socialist Finance Minister, was the front-runner to win France's presidential election next year. The scandal forced him to resign his position as head of the IMF and drop out of the race.

Epstein's article was based, in part, on tapes from security cameras at the Sofitel seized by American police. He said the tapes showed two security officials at the hotel slapping hands and going into a "strange dance of joy for three minutes" soon after the chambermaid Nafissatou Diallo reported the alleged assault.

In a statement yesterday, the French-owned Accor Group, which owns the hotel, said the alleged "dance of joy" lasted only 8 seconds and had nothing to do with the Strauss-Kahn affair.

The group also rejected Epstein's suggestions that Diallo may have had an "accomplice" in a nearby suite, saying that suite was occupied by a guest who checked out 30 minutes before the alleged assault.

Epstein also alleged that emails sent by Strauss-Kahn on his BlackBerry in the days before the incident were read by officials at the headquarters of Sarkozy's Union pour un Mouvement Populaire.

The BlackBerry went missing on the day of the alleged assault.

The leader of the UMP, Jean-Francois Cope, said his party had never attempted to spy on or trap the former presidential front-runner.


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