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Dominique Strauss-Kahn: Maid encounter a moral failing

By John Lichfield

Dominique Strauss-Kahn attempted to restore his shattered reputation on French television news last night despite a feminist demonstration and a poll suggesting that he had little future in French politics.

The former head of the International Monetary Fund, aged 62, was making his first lengthy public comment since his arrest in New York in May on charges of attempted rape that were later dropped.

He said his sexual encounter with New York hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo "did not involve violence, constraint or aggression" but still was a "moral failing" on his part.

Mr Strauss-Kahn said in an interview with France's TF1 television channel "what happened was more than an inappropriate relation. It was an error".

He added: "I regret it infinitely." Still, he maintained that Ms Diallo "lied."

New York prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against him last month, though Mr Strauss-Kahn is still facing a lawsuit brought by Diallo.

Mr Strauss-Kahn also dismissed a French writer's claims that he tried to rape her during a 2003 interview as "imaginary" and denied violence and aggression.

Writer Tristane Banon has claimed Strauss-Kahn tussled her to the floor during an interview in an empty apartment, where he tried to open her jeans and bra and put his fingers in her mouth and underwear.

Because a police investigation into the claims is ongoing, Strauss-Kahn said he would not say anything more about the matter.

In a further blow to Mr Strauss-Kahn's reputation, it emerged yesterday that he had admitted to French police that he made sexual "advances" to Ms Banon during an interview in a Paris flat in 2004. Mr Strauss-Kahn told French investigators that he tried to kiss Ms Banon - who was then 27 and a close friend of his daughter - but had stopped when she objected. Ms Banon, who made no formal complaint at the time, says that Mr Strauss-Kahn wrestled her to the floor and attempted to undress her.

She accuses him of attempted rape. Mr Strauss-Kahn's lawyers had previously insisted that the incident was "imaginary".

By admitting an "advance", Mr Strauss-Kahn has conceded, in effect, that circumstantial evidence exists that he did have a sexual encounter with Ms Banon. His lawyers hope that prosecutors will decide that he was guilty of, at the most, sexual assault. Under French law, a sexual assault case must be brought within three years, compared to ten years for attempted rape.

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