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By John Helmer, Moscow

In May, when not a single head of a government holding a seat on the board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) dared say what he thought about the criminal case against managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said: “it really is hard to believe that everything is as it was initially presented. I just can’t believe that – it is beyond me to understand it.”

It’s a safe bet at this point in time, looking back, that Putin was pretty sure there was a plot against DSK; and that he believed that French and American government officials were in on it. But note — it’s easier to speculate the French were; easier to prove the Americans were.

It is quite another thing to speculate whether Putin and the Russian government view the political sequel, which Strauss-Kahn told his men to launch this past Saturday, as likely to undermine President Nicolas Sarkozy’s run for re-election, now that the French Socialist Party has selected Francois Hollande as their presidential candidate; the election is due on April 22, next year; and May 6, if a second round of voting is required for a majority winner. Regime change isn’t quite the popular policy in Moscow that it is in Washington and London. And there’s reason for thinking that an untested weakling like Hollande would be worse for Russian interests than the tested weakling already in the Elysee Palace.

But what if the Kremlin believes President Barack Obama was in on the plot, was kept informed as US intelligence agents monitored the signals of French agents circling Strauss-Kahn on the fateful day; then ensured the US Department of Justice pressed hard on the prosecution of Strauss-Kahn, despite the evidence of something else — would it matter? Is there any Russian interest in Strauss-Kahn and what he is trying to do now? And if Strauss-Kahn hasn’t the courage to say at long last what he is aiming to do, why should anyone in Moscow care?

If the truth be told finally, and comprehensively, Strauss-Kahn is no innocent. And if the evidence reveals that he received on his Blackberry a warning of a sex ambush about 120 minutes before he had 6 minutes of consensual sex with the ambusher, what difference can it make to the Great Powers if the tell-tale Blackberry has gone missing, its locator signal disabled by a thief, an agent provocateur, or maybe by Strauss-Kahn (DSK) himself?

Two days ago, in time for breakfast on Saturday morning, DSK launched an elaborately plotted campaign through an American investigative reporter he and his lawyers trust. For what purpose did the reporter, Edward Jay Epstein, restrict himself to a small part of the available evidence, ignoring US official involvement that may run from the first New York Police Department (NYPD) detective to arrive at the crime scene, John Mongiello, and all the way to the top of criminal justice system in Washington?

As we now know, it took from May 14, the day of the alleged crime, until August 23, for the NYPD and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to drop the criminal charges against DSK; not because Cyrus Vance Junior, the chief prosecutor, declared DSK innocent, but because he declared his accuser, Nafissatou Diallo, guilty of lying. What Vance admitted can be read here.

Curiously, Epstein’s version, published on November 26 in the New York Review of Books and Financial Times, stops short of identifying a series of falsehoods published directly or indirectly by the NYPD and the District Attorney’s office, apparently with Vance’s advance authorization. It’s big news if they were lying, because that almost certainly means they were told to frame DSK by their superiors. It’s anyone’s guess who has the authority to tell such people to violate their professional duty and oaths of office. In Vance’s case, the imprimatur would have had to come from Washington, DC. Epstein doesn’t pursue this line of investigation at all.

Instead, Epstein’s version has been trumpeted by one of DSK’s lawyers, William Taylor, who is quoted by Agence France Presse (AFP) as saying: “we cannot now exclude the likelihood that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was the target of a deliberate effort to destroy him as a political force.” Taylor goes on to tell AFP his finger is pointing at officials of the Sofitel Hotel, where the alleged crime occurred, and at its parent in France, the Accor Group.

Epstein’s version names the following Frenchmen with the innuendo that they might have been connected to French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s political and intelligence operatives, immediately after Diallo’s story to the police and DSK’s arrest, or possibly before Diallo’s story had even begun on the fateful day, May 14, between 1206 and 1213 in the afternoon.

Epstein’s target list comprises Xavier Graff, head of Accor’s global security operations in Paris on the day of DSK’s arrest; René-Georges Querry, Graff’s superior at Accor, who at the time of the New York arrest was apparently sitting in Sarkozy’s special box waiting for a nighttime football match to start; and Ange Mancini, Querry’s boss eight years ago, who now happens to run Sarkozy’s links to French (and foreign) intelligence services. That’s an innuendo — there is no trace of any French government official in Epstein’s presentation of what he’s found so far.

The only evidence of hacking by Sarkozy agents into DSK’s communications came from a spy for DSK, “a woman friend working temporarily working as a researcher at the Paris office of the Paris offices of the UMP, Sarkozy’s centre-right political Party.” Epstein says he made no contact with the UMP.

Epstein’s report suggests that he asked no questions of the NYPD investigators; that deputy commissioner Browne refused to respond to his calls; and that he had no contact with the Manhattan prosecutors. He doesn’t refer at all to the presentation of evidence in the final affidavit, dismissing the case on August 30. That evidence includes the statement that “investigators and prosecutors interviewed the hotel employees who assisted the defendant [DSK] in the lobby when he checked out…” Epstein is silent on whom the investigators and prosecutors interviewed among the hotel employees assisting Diallo, the alleged victim.

There is a key figure in the Epstein tale, whose image appears in footage of the Sofitel hotel security office; who accompanies Diallo into the office; who is familiar to the head of the Sofitel engineering department, Brian Yearwood; who is recorded as orchestrating, with Yearwood, the summons to the police and the communication Diallo has with them, after they arrive at the hotel; and who is recorded on film as dancing, clapping and high-fiving with Yearwood while they wait for the police to arrive.

Curious behaviour for men in the presence of what everyone was about to claim was a vicious attack on the anus, vagina, mouth and other body parts of Diallo. Yet none of the detective work that DSK’s people have undertaken for months, nor the records of the investigating detectives, nor the case dossier of the District Attorney have put a name on this man.

All, or almost all the evidence presented by Epstein appears to have come from DSK’s US lawyers and friends, and from evidence records required to be handed over to them by the District Attorney; but not DSK himself. Epstein acknowledges he didn’t initiate a call to Sarkozy’s team, and admits he could not get through to Graff and Querry. He reports trying to ask questions of Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne and Deputy Inspector Kim Royster, but they refused to answer. He doesn’t appear to have tried calling Detective Mongiello, whom he records as in the first squad to reach the hotel; nor Detective Steven Lane, whose signature appears on the official felony complaint presented in court on May 16.

Nor does Epstein report contact with any of the prosecutors under Vance (right); this is despite their talkativeness with the New York papers when they were leaking extensively on what they claimed they had on DSK, and much later, on Diallo’s lying.

It looks like Epstein is holding back what he has discovered about the New York police and prosecutors. Or else he was keen not to discover anything about them which might distract from the political target of his publication – Sarkozy.

Epstein (right) refuses to respond to requests to discuss his evidence and findings. “I prefer to let the article speak for itself,” he claims in an email. Asked if he had a confidentiality relationship with DSK’s representatives, Epstein refuses to answer.

If the new story is intended to strike at Sarkozy, but not at US officials apparently in cahoots with him, why might that be, especially now that the newly available evidence reveals serious crimes under US law? Crimes more likely to be provable against the Americans who committed them than against the Sarkozyites.

The biggest of these may have been committed by the unidentified high-fiving, dancing man. But at least two other people have been identified in Epstein’s retelling of the evidence available to the defence team. One is a Sofitel employee named Syed Haque, whose key-card admitted him to DSK’s room at 1205, one minute before Diallo arrived, and who may have been in the suite at more or less the time Diallo says she was attacked. On the face of it, Haque must have been an eye or ear-witness. According to Epstein, he tried to ask Haque questions, but was refused.

Apparently, Haque wasn’t questioned by the NYPD or Vance’s associates either, as no protocol of his evidence was turned over to DSK’s lawyers; at least, not that Epstein reveals.

Then there is the identity of the occupant of the room 2820, just down the corridor from DSK’s suite. The Sofitel management cannot withhold from NYPD or the DA details of the registered guest, the person’s movements, his or her whereabouts between 1205 and 1213 on May 14; and any direct testimony of having seen Diallo twice that day.

It’s obviously a crime to conceal evidence of a crime; it’s also a crime to conspire to procure false evidence of a crime. The failure of the police to include Room 2820 as part of their crime scene investigation; the failure to investigate who was occupying that room, and why Diallo went into the room before the alleged attack, and then immediately after it, represent extraordinary lapses of NYPD procedure – negligence maybe, or worse. Yet, for the time being, the only crime DSK, his lawyers, and Epstein have come up with is hacking by unknown persons into his Blackberry; as that was an IMF device, this might be called espionage.

And finally, if Sarkozy had given orders to his French agents to see if they could catch DSK with his pants down, that mightn’t have been unlawful. In the circumstances Epstein has gone to lengths to point out, DSK can’t even call himself unlucky. This wasn’t a case of he had it coming. This was a case of he knew it was coming.

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