By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawyers for former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn asked a judge on Monday to dismiss a civil suit filed by a hotel maid who accused him of sexual assault, asserting that the onetime French presidential hopeful had diplomatic immunity.
Strauss-Kahn was cleared of all criminal charges that he forced Guinean immigrant Nafissatou Diallo to perform oral sex in a New York luxury suite on May 14, but he still faces the civil suit plus a separate allegation by a woman in France.
The motion to dismiss, filed in New York state Supreme Court in the Bronx, where the woman lived, also claimed her "false charges" significantly impaired the International Monetary Fund's "ability to serve its critical function ... at a time of worldwide financial crisis and instability."
But the central argument asserted the Frenchman was immune from such a suit under international law when it was filed in early August, and lawyers asked the judge to throw the case out in its entirety.
The suit filed by attorney William Taylor, who was also part of Strauss-Kahn's criminal defense team, argued that his position as IMF managing director granted him diplomatic immunity that extended even after his resignation and until he was free to return to France.
Strauss-Kahn returned home to Paris late last month when prosecutors decided to abandon their pursuit of sexual assault and rape charges against him because they had lost faith in Diallo's credibility.
"This court must dismiss the complaint against defendant Dominique Strauss-Kahn because, under controlling international law that all federal and state courts are bound to apply, Mr. Strauss-Kahn was immune from civil suit," the motion said.
NOT A DIPLOMAT
Diallo's lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, immediately rejected that argument.
"This baseless motion is another desperate attempt to avoid having to answer for the deplorable acts he committed against Ms. Diallo," Thompson wrote in an email. "Strauss-Kahn's claim of diplomatic immunity will clearly fail because: (1) he is not a diplomat; (2) according to his own story he was in New York on 'personal' business; (3) he, not the IMF, paid for his room at the Sofitel; and (4) he was obviously acting in his personal capacity when he violently attacked Ms. Diallo."
The scandal blew up in the midst of a growing debt crisis in Greece and Strauss-Kahn was instrumental in convincing European policymakers to agree to financing to help Athens. The crisis has escalated and threatens to slow global growth.
A grand jury had indicted Strauss-Kahn, but prosecutors later asked a judge to drop the criminal charges because they no longer found the 32-year-old Diallo credible, and the judge dismissed the case.
While her account of the assault remained steadfast, Diallo told a series of lies about her past and about what happened immediately after the incident in the $3,000-a-night suite in New York's Sofitel hotel, prosecutors said. Despite the dismissal of criminal charges, the civil suit remains viable because civil actions require a lesser burden of proof.
In a separate motion, his lawyers also demanded that sections of the lawsuit alleging Strauss-Kahn assaulted other women be stricken, as well as claims that he and his defense team "smeared" Diallo's character."
"The allegations are nothing more than an attempt to embarrass Mr. Strauss-Kahn, open the door to harassing and irrelevant discovery, and ultimately instill undue prejudice in the jury," the motion said.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, had been a favorite to run as the next president of France before he was hauled from a first-class seat on a flight from New York to Paris and arrested on May 14. He resigned from the IMF four days later, his political plans in tatters.
In addition to the civil suit, he still faces a separate inquiry in France from a writer who says Strauss-Kahn forced himself on her during a 2003 interview.
Strauss-Kahn strongly denied sexual assault from the start and in a recent interview with French television apologized to his country for an encounter he called "moral error" that was consensual. He also vowed to stay out of the Socialist Party's 2012 election campaign in France.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Daniel Trotta and Anthony Boadle)