US court clears way for Strauss-Kahn's civil trial
New York: Rejecting his last ditch bid to avoid a civil trial, a US court on Tuesday rejected former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's claim to diplomatic immunity in the high-profile sexual assault case against him.
Judge Douglas McKeon at the court in the Bronx, New York, said that Strauss-Kahn cannot "eschew" immunity in an effort to clear his name only to embrace it now in an effort to deny Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel maid who charged the 62-year-old French politician of sexual assault, the opportunity to clear hers.
The judge began his 12-page ruling in the case with the Japanese proverb used in IMF's 2011 annual report, "The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour."
"Strauss-Kahn's motion for dismissal is denied," the judge ruled.
Strauss-Kahn's lawyers had asked a judge to dismiss the case in March, arguing he had diplomatic immunity.
Strauss-Kahn who planned to run for French presidency had to resign from the top financial body after the scandal broke out.
Strauss-Kahn, who had criminal charges for the same offence dropped last year, had applied to have Diallo's case against him dropped claiming his role as managing director of the IMF afforded him diplomatic immunity.
Diallo claims that Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted her in a "violent and sadistic attack" in the Midtown Sofitel hotel, in New York, nearly one year ago when she walked into his suite.
Police subsequently removed him from an Air France flight about to depart New York's Kennedy Airport and jailed him before his arraignment in criminal court.
Diallo had contended in her case that Strauss-Kahn did not
enjoy diplomatic immunity and the only immunity he had was "residual" related to actions he performed in furtherance of matters related to the IMF.
The judge said "Strauss-Kahn cannot eschew immunity in an effort to clear his name only to embrace it now in an effort to deny Diallo the opportunity to clear hers".
"Indisputably, as Managing Director of the IMF, Strauss-kahn enjoyed some type of immunity, either 'absolute' as he contends, which would spare him from criminal or civil liability in this country, even on matters strictly personal or unrelated to the IMF, or 'functional' or 'official acts' immunity which only relates to activities in furtherance of the business of the IMF and would be of no benefit to him as to the claims asserted in this lawsuit," the judge said.
McKeon however added that for his motion to dismiss the suit, Strauss-Kahn must establish he enjoyed absolute immunity even after he had resigned from the IMF in May 2011.
The judge said Strauss-Kahn should have had "absolute" diplomatic immunity till at least August 8, the day when Diallo had filed the civil lawsuit.
"Confronted with well settled law that his voluntary resignation from the IMF terminated any immunity which he enjoyed... Strauss-Khan, throws (legally speaking that is) his own version of a Hail Mary pass by asserting that once he was arrested and put under house arrest in New York he becomes eligible for diplomatic immunity".
The judge said Strauss-Kahn was neither an employee of the IMF, a diplomatic envoy or diplomatic agent, let alone a member of the diplomatic corps after May 18 and if Strauss-Kahn was entitled to absolute immunity, "as he contends", there "was ample opportunity before now to assert it.
Diallo's lawyers issued a statement calling the ruling "well-reasoned and articulate".
"We have said all along that Strauss-Kahn's desperate plea for immunity was a tactic designed to delay these proceedings and we now look forward to holding him accountable for the brutal sexual assault that he committed," they wrote.
The judge said had Strauss-Kahn sought diplomatic immunity from the start, the criminal case against him could have been prevented and chances of a civil lawsuit also would have been negligible.
"But his explanation for not raising immunity during the criminal proceedings, conveyed to the court by his counsel during oral arguement, concerned his desire to clear his name. The court has no reason to question his motives...
"However Strauss-Kahn's decision to deliberately forebear from asserting available immunities should not, as a matter of customary international law or fundamental fairness, be used to prevent another from exercising legal rights otherwise available," he said.
During a March hearing in the case, Amit Mehta, one of Strauss-Kahn's lawyers had told McKeon that Strauss-Kahn enjoyed the same kind of diplomatic immunity which is given to the United Nations secretary general or to a diplomat from any country.
Mehta said as head of the IMF, Strauss-Kahn enjoyed "absolute immunity" at the time of the incident, urging McKeon that the case "must be dismissed".
Mehta argued that Strauss-Kahn enjoyed protections under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Specialized Agencies, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1947.
While the US did not sign that accord, Mehta said provisions of the convention have the status of "customary international law".