Former IMF chief assembles crisis team to fight back

Dominique Strauss-Kahn`s advisers will have their work cut out for them.

Washington: Faced with a legal and media onslaught, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is pulling together a crack team of investigators, former spies and media advisers to fight back against charges he sexually assaulted a hotel chambermaid.

The former IMF chief`s advisers will have their work cut out for them, and they may have to use different approaches to handling his legal problems in the United States while trying to bolster his reputation in his native France and beyond.

This may be why the range of damage-control specialists being assembled is so diverse. People consulted or hired so far include ex-CIA spies, experienced New York criminal investigators and some of the best-connected public relations specialists in the French-speaking world.

Strauss-Kahn, who is under house arrest in New York, has denied charges of a criminal sexual act, attempted rape, sexual abuse, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching. The case could take several months to come to court.

The Frenchman has just found a more permanent place to stay following four days in jail and several more in an apartment besieged by media hordes. A person close to Strauss-Kahn`s entourage, who asked to remain anonymous, said only now that he and his wife Anne Sinclair have finally settled in a two-story townhouse in Manhattan`s TriBeCa neighbourhood are they and their lawyers able to start mapping out a defence strategy.

In Washington, the team is in the process of signing up TD International, a "strategic advisory" firm which offers both public relations and investigative services and is staffed and run by former CIA operations officers and US diplomats.

In New York, according a person familiar with the arrangement, the team has hired a private investigations firm experienced in criminal cases. The firm, Guidepost Solutions, describes itself as a "full-service investigations and security consulting firm”.

In Paris, Strauss-Kahn`s team has sought counsel, at least informally, from some of his long-time personal advisers affiliated with Euro RSCG, one of France`s best-connected PR outfits. While the firm has denied it is involved, a source close to Strauss-Kahn`s entourage said at least some of the advisers who have worked with Strauss-Kahn in the past are quietly advising him again now.

Precisely what Strauss-Kahn`s defence team expects -- or hopes -- each of these firms to do is unclear.

American campaign

The legal team is led by Benjamin Brafman, a prominent New York criminal lawyer known for his thorough preparation and aggression. He did not respond to requests for comment on the contents of this story. Beyond lawyers, the defence team either has, or is preparing, formal retainer agreements with two high-powered, low-profile firms which operate somewhere near the interface of public relations and corporate and criminal investigations.

One is the little-known Washington-based "strategic advisory" firm TD International, according to a source close to the firm.

The firm`s website identifies two of its partners as former CIA officers, and its founder and managing partner, William Green, as a former US diplomat "who participated in the management of the Anglo-American and US-Canadian intelligence relationships when posted to Washington”.

TD International`s website says it offers clients such services as "strategic consulting", "commercial intelligence”, "due diligence" and "security services”.

Justice Department filings by TD International give a peek into some of its activities. One set of filings shows that beginning in late 2006, TD acted as a US representative for Yulia Tymoshenko, who was a leader of Ukraine`s "Orange Revolution" and later served as prime minister.

Other Justice Department filings show that in 2007, TD International was hired by Strauss-Kahn to act as his "US-based communications resource”. A contract between TD International and Strauss-Kahn, dated July 18, 2007, shows he hired the firm to "conduct a specific public relations campaign" and "work is to begin immediately and continue until ascendancy of client to head of IMF”.

The contract says Strauss-Kahn was to pay the firm EUR 20,000, then equivalent to about USD 27,600. According to the source close to the firm who is familiar with the contract, TD International helped advise Strauss-Kahn on US and international political strategy related to the choice of a new IMF chief.

The 2007 contract was signed on TD International`s behalf by Ronald Slimp, who the firm`s website says was a former US diplomat and trade negotiator.

The source who is familiar with TD International`s activities said that while the firm`s involvement with Strauss-Kahn was more related to politics and PR, the firm also conducts investigations, often related to the performance of due diligence on pending overseas business transactions.

The source said that TD International had been approached by Strauss-Kahn`s lawyers and that the firm was likely to agree to an engagement. Precisely what role TD International would play is unclear, but the source indicated that it could involve "strategic thinking" about helping him to rebuild his international reputation.

A spokesman for TD International said: "We don`t comment on client relationships and activities. However, our past work with Dominique Strauss-Kahn is accurately reflected in (Justice Department) filings."

Bureau Report

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