Who is DSK accuser?

27 July 2011 - 03:22 By Daniel Trotta, Reuters

First she was portrayed as a model of virtue who was violated by a rich and powerful man.

Then she was presented as a liar, a schemer associated with criminals in the New York underworld, who may have taken down the next president of France for her own financial gain.

The world remains divided on the hotel cleaner who accused former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of assaulting her in a New York hotel on May 14.

Nafissatou Diallo, whose story had been told through prosecutors and defence lawyers, gave her own account to the media at the weekend, saying Strauss-Kahn behaved like a "crazy man".

It was the first time the widow with a teenage daughter, an immigrant from Guinea in West Africa, spoke publicly since alleging that Strauss-Kahn had emerged naked from the bathroom of his luxury suite and forced her to perform oral sex.

"She is not a whore, she is a good mother," said Blake Diallo, the Senegalese manager of a Harlem restaurant she once frequented, who is not related to her.

"She is a wonderful, caring, hard-working African woman."

To women's rights advocates, Diallo is a survivor who embodies the immigrant story of fleeing poverty and repression for a better life in the US. They lament how the accuser so easily becomes the accused.

Yet defenders and political supporters of Strauss-Kahn were also handed material they could eagerly latch on to.

Prosecutors were forced to report troubling information about Diallo's background and that, in order to gain asylum in the US, she had lied about having been gang-raped. She also changed details of her story about what had happened minutes after her encounter with Strauss-Kahn.

What's more, the woman appeared to be surrounded by shady characters.

Prosecutors with the Manhattan District Attorney's office reportedly found a recorded telephone conversation between her and a man in an Arizona jail in which she said "words to the effect" that "this guy [Strauss-Kahn] has a lot of money. I know what I am doing".

The precise context of the conversation has been clouded by the difficulties of interpretation of a dialect of Fulani, but they were seen as seriously undermining the prosecution case.

But New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance has not dropped charges, indicating that prosecutors may believe parts of both narratives - that Diallo was a victim, but she also has inconvenient facts in her background.

Dorchen Leidholdt, director of the women's services group that has assisted Diallo, said: "Poor immigrants of violence often do things to survive, and are sometimes drawn into criminal or unsavoury activity and often end up with really poor-quality immigration assistance."

"She's typical of so many of the vulnerable immigrant women in our city."

One of six brothers and sisters, Diallo's early life was one of limited horizons. Her home village, in the remote Labe region of Guinea, still does not have water, electricity or phone lines.

Her family is of Fula ethnicity, like 40% of the population. Her late father was known as a devoted and learned Muslim. Like many West Africans, her family practised the Tidjiane version of Sunni Islam.

"Here, the girls get married at 16 and the boys at 20. We don't know anything about that other way of life," Diallo's older brother Mamoudou said.

His sister's arranged marriage to a distant cousin ended with the death of her husband - the cause is unclear - after which she left her home village in the mid-1990s, travelling to the capital, Conakry, to become a seamstress. Her ties with her family appear to have weakened after that.

According to prosecutors, when she later applied for asylum in the US, Diallo fabricated and embellished her story, claiming she and her husband were persecuted by the Guinean regime and her husband was jailed, tortured, deprived of medical treatment and died as a result.

After the encounter with Strauss-Kahn, Diallo told prosecutors she had fabricated the asylum statement with the help of an adviser. Kenneth Thompson, a lawyer representing her now, said the fact that Diallo was a victim of genital mutilation and had wanted to avoid that fate for her daughter would have been enough to win asylum, but she had been advised to invent a story.

Within days of Strauss-Kahn's arrest, his advisers worked to collect information about Diallo. They quickly turned up links with people involved in criminal activities. The man she spoke with in the Arizona jail, for example, had been arrested for bartering counterfeit designer clothes for marijuana.

Investigators found bank records showing he had deposited thousands of dollars into her account.

Diallo told Newsweek magazine he had indeed transferred the money into her account, but she had not been told about it and had never spent any of the cash.

Once she moved to New York, she became a regular at Cafe 2115 on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, a magnet for many French-speaking West Africans in Harlem.

"These stories of drugs and laundering money, I don't know her that way. She is not that kind of person," the restaurateur said.

But immigrant opinions of the woman are sharply mixed.

"Why would a big man who could be president of France want to spoil his chances by doing such a thing?" said Ouma Mahamadou, a Nigerian patron of Cafe 2115.

"It doesn't make any sense to me, so she must be lying."