(Updates with viewership number in 10th paragraph.)
Sept. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in his first interview since his May arrest in a sexual-assault case in Manhattan, said what happened in room 2806 in New York’s Sofitel Hotel “involved no violence, no coercion, no aggression.”
The former head of the International Monetary Fund and a one-time leading potential Socialist Party contender for the French presidency called his encounter with a chambermaid at the hotel a “moral failing” and apologized to his family, friends, and to “the French people.”
“What happened was more than an inappropriate relationship; it was an error,” Strauss-Kahn, who returned to France on Sept. 4, said in an interview on TF1 television yesterday. “I regret it infinitely.”
Strauss-Kahn, 62, was charged with attempting to rape and sexually assault the chambermaid at the Sofitel Hotel in Manhattan. The case was thrown out last month, even though police determined there had been a sexual encounter between Strauss-Kahn and his accuser. New York prosecutors decided not to pursue a criminal case after they determined that his accuser had lied repeatedly to them and others.
“I was frightened,” DSK, as he is known in France, said in the 20-minute-long interview when asked about his nights in a New York prison and his handcuffed “perp” walk. “When you’re in the jaws of that machine you feel it can chew you up. I was humiliated before I could even say a word in my defense.”
Strauss-Kahn was taken off an Air France flight at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, on May 14, hours after Diallo accused him of trying to rape her in his Sofitel suite.
He was interviewed yesterday by Claire Chazal, a friend and former colleague of his wife, Anne Sinclair. He still faces a civil suit by the New York maid, Nafissatou Diallo. In France, investigators are probing allegations that he tried to rape writer Tristane Banon eight years ago, a claim he has denied.
Although Strauss-Kahn acknowledged he acted immorally, he didn’t explain any details of what happened on May 14, Douglas Wigdor, Diallo’s lawyer, said in an e-mailed statement.
“That is inexcusable,” Wigdor said. “We are confident that people will see his interview with his wife’s friend for what it was -- a desperate ploy to gain sympathy with the French public.”
The interview was watched by a peak of 13.45 million viewers, or 47 percent of those watching television, a record audience for any show this year and the largest for the evening news since urban riots in November 2005, media viewership measurement service Mediametrie said.
Strauss-Kahn said that Diallo’s story “was a complete lie” and that their encounter didn’t involve the payment of any money. He didn’t provide details about what he suggested was a consensual encounter.
The Banon case he said “didn’t involve any aggression, any violence,” calling her accusations “imaginary.”
He was questioned on Sept. 12 by Paris police in relation to the attempted rape complaint filed by Banon. In her July criminal complaint, she said that Strauss-Kahn assaulted her while she tried to interview him in 2003. He declined to comment on the case yesterday, saying the police investigation is continuing. He has filed a complaint with Paris prosecutors accusing Banon of slander.
Strauss-Kahn was greeted at TF1’s studios yesterday by a group of women protesters, Agence France-Presse said. Some carried a banner that said, “When a woman says no, it’s no.”
“I respect women,” Strauss-Kahn said when asked whether he has problems dealing with the opposite sex. “I reject that, though I understand the reaction.”
He also paid tribute to his wife for standing by him. “I couldn’t have faced this without her,” he said. “She’s an exceptional woman. I hurt her, I know.”
His wife, Sinclair, the 63-year-old New York-born granddaughter of Paul Rosenberg -- France’s biggest art merchant in the first half of the 20th century -- inherited paintings by Picasso, Matisse and Degas. She paid Strauss-Kahn’s New York legal bills.
Before he was charged in New York, Strauss-Kahn had been planning to run in the primaries for the Socialist Party nomination for the 2012 presidential vote, he said last night.
“I had thought I could be useful and bring some answers to the problems facing France,” he said. “Obviously all that is behind me.”
He said it was “important” that the left’s candidate win France’s next presidential elections, adding he had no intention of backing a candidate in this month’s Socialist Party primary.
“My whole life I’ve tried to work for the public good,” he said, when asked what he’d do next. “First I want to rest, then I’ll see.” He said he was “fascinated” by issues such as the demographic challenges facing Europe.
A majority of French people want him to stay out of politics, an Ifop poll for Le Journal du Dimanche yesterday showed.
Fifty-three percent of those polled want Strauss-Kahn to leave politics, the poll said, according to the newspaper. Sixty-four percent of those asked want Strauss-Kahn to give his views and solutions to the economic crisis.
Ifop polled 956 people aged 18 or older between Sept. 9 and Sept. 16 through phone interviews. No margin of error was given.
--With assistance from Karen Freifeld in New York. Editors: Vidya Root, Ben Livesey
To contact the reporters on this story: Gregory Viscusi in Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org; Helene Fouquet in Paris at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at firstname.lastname@example.org