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Strauss-Kahn, NYC hotel maid settle suit over alleged sexual assault

Former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves his apartment in Paris December 10, 2012. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
Former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves his apartment in Paris December 10, 2012. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Dominique Strauss-Kahn and a New York hotel maid who accused the former International Monetary Fund chief of sexual assault on Monday settled her civil lawsuit against him for an undisclosed sum, ending one chapter of a scandal that cost him his job and a chance to become president of France.

At a brief hearing in New York State Supreme Court in the Bronx, Justice Douglas McKeon said the terms of the deal would remain confidential.

Strauss-Kahn, 63, was not required to appear in New York and remained in Paris. His accuser, Nafissatou Diallo, was present as the judge had ordered, wearing a green blouse with black pants and a gray and white head scarf.

"I thank everybody, and I thank God," Diallo said in a brief statement outside the courthouse after the hearing.

The hearing took place about seven miles from the luxury Manhattan hotel where Diallo claimed the managing director of the IMF attacked her last May. The jet-setting financier spent six nights in custody and resigned.

"Ms. Diallo is a strong and courageous woman who never lost faith in our system of justice. With this resolution, she can now move on with her life and we thank everyone for their support and prayers," said her lawyer, Kenneth Thompson.

Strauss-Kahn's New York lawyers, William Taylor and Amit Mehta, said in an emailed statement: "On behalf of Mr. Strauss-Kahn, we are pleased to have arrived at a resolution of this matter. We are grateful to Judge McKeon whose patience and forbearance allowed this agreement to be formulated."

The agreement ends Strauss-Kahn's legal woes in the United States, but he faces more court dates in France.

The U.S. scandal erupted on May 14, 2011, when Diallo, 33, told police Strauss-Kahn attacked her at the Sofitel Hotel. She said he emerged naked from the bathroom of his $3,000-a-night suite and forced her to perform oral sex.

The accusation led to a frantic scramble by New York police to arrest Strauss-Kahn as he sat aboard a jet at John F. Kennedy International Airport waiting to take off for France that night.

The scandal forced Strauss-Kahn to resign as head of one of the world's most influential international finance organizations and wrecked his hopes of running for president in France. He was once seen as a front-runner for the Socialists. Instead Francois Hollande became the candidate and unseated President Nicolas Sarkozky.

The New York case also seemed to initiate a wave of other accusations against Strauss-Kahn, long known as the "great seducer" in French political circles.

Prosecutors initially expressed confidence in the evidence, including DNA that showed a sexual encounter. But they dropped the case in August 2011 after developing concerns about Diallo's credibility, including what they said were inconsistencies in her account of what happened immediately following the incident.

Judge McKeon said a separate lawsuit filed by Diallo against the New York Post over the tabloid's report that she was a prostitute had been settled as well. Terms of that were also kept confidential.

The newspaper did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday, though it has said in the past that it stood by its reporting.

GLARE OF PUBLICITY

Accusers in such cases often hide from the glare of publicity and many media outlets, including Reuters, protect their identities by not revealing their names.

But Diallo, the daughter of an imam from Guinea, broke her silence in July 2011, while the criminal investigation was still active, revealing her identity in interviews to Newsweek and ABC News.

She filed her civil lawsuit just weeks before the charges were dismissed, claiming Strauss-Kahn's "sadistic" attack caused her physical and emotional damage.

Strauss-Kahn filed a $1 million countersuit against Diallo for defamation. He said the sexual encounter was consensual but admitted it was a "moral error."

Legal experts said it was common for settlement amounts in such cases to remain sealed, as defendants try to avoid the perception of guilt.

"There are a lot of people in the general public that will equate a large settlement with being guilty of what you are accused of doing," said Colorado attorney John Clune, who represents victims of sexual assault.

Once cleared of criminal charges, Strauss-Kahn returned to France, where his legal troubles persisted.

He awaits a decision by a French court on his request to halt an inquiry into whether he should stand trial on pimping charges related to sex parties he attended with prostitutes. A court date was set for December 19.

In October, French authorities dropped a related probe into allegations of group rape by Strauss-Kahn after the complaining witness, a prostitute, retracted her accusations.

Soon after Strauss-Kahn's arrest, a French writer, Tristane Banon, accused him of attempted rape in 2003. French authorities brought no charges, despite concluding the incident likely qualified as an assault, because the statute of limitations had expired.

Lawyers for Strauss-Kahn have denied any wrongdoing, saying he has become a target for his "libertine" ways.

Strauss-Kahn and his wife, journalist Anne Sinclair, separated this summer.

Strauss-Kahn is quietly trying to resume his career, delivering speeches at private conferences in recent months and setting up a consulting firm in Paris.

If the reaction of some Parisians asked about the legal settlement in New York is any indication, Strauss-Kahn still faces a skeptical public in France.

"Just because he's got money he gets away with it," Bastien, an electrician in his 20s told Reuters TV. "If it had been anyone else they would have done time for this. It's not right."

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Pauline Mevel in Paris. Editing by Dan Burns and Christopher Wilson)

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