Strauss-Kahn cannot claim diplomatic immunity: US judge
In a major legal setback to former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a US judge today ruled that he does not enjoy diplomatic immunity in a sexual assault lawsuit against him, rejecting his motion to dismiss the case and paving the way for the suit to head to trial in New York.
Judge Douglas McKeon of Supreme Court of the State of New York in the Bronx ruled that 62-year-old French cannot claim diplomatic immunity in the case since he had resigned from his post of Managing Director at the International Monetary Fund months before the civil lawsuit was filed by hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo in August last year.
A one-time French presidential hopeful, Strauss-Kahn was arrested and was slapped with criminal charges after Diallo alleged he had sexually assualted her in his hotel suite in May 2011. The criminal charges were however dropped against Strauss-Kahn in August last year after prosecutors said they could not prove the charges "beyond a reasonable doubt" due to the lack of credibility in Diallo's accounts of the incident.
Strauss-Kahn had then sought dismissal of the civil lawsuit, which Diallo had filed on August 8, citing that the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the case since he enjoyed diplomatic immunity in his position as IMF chief.
In the civil lawsuit, Diallo sought damages for injuries and other losses she "suffered" due to the sexual assaut.
McKeon, in his 12-page ruling handed down today, denied Strauss-Kahn's motion for dismissal of the civil lawsuit. McKeon began ruling with a Japanese proverb used in IMF's 2011 annual report that said,"The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour".
The judge said Strauss-Kahn had resigned from his IMF post on May 18, 2011 after which he was indicted on criminal charges. He had not sought diplomatic immunity during the criminal case against him.
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.