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Strauss-Kahn's U.S. legal team to argue for civil suit dismissal

NEW YORK (Reuters) - As legal troubles continue to dog former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on both sides of the Atlantic, his U.S. lawyers head back to court Wednesday to seek dismissal of a civil suit brought by the woman who accused him of sexual assault last year.

Lawyers for Strauss-Kahn and his accuser, hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo, will battle over whether Strauss-Kahn's former IMF position grants him diplomatic immunity from the civil lawsuit.

Diallo accused Strauss-Kahn of forcing her to perform oral sex in a luxury Manhattan hotel suite last May, leading to his arrest and ending his hopes for a French presidential bid. The criminal case faltered seven months ago due to prosecutors' concerns about her credibility as a witness.

The civil lawsuit, filed in August, represents Diallo's final chance to hold Strauss-Kahn legally accountable for what her lawyers called a "brutal" sexual assault. Strauss-Kahn has denied the allegations, and his lawyers have accused Diallo of financial motivations.

Strauss-Kahn's legal troubles have persisted since his return to France last summer. On Monday, he was placed under formal investigation by authorities there looking into a suspected prostitution ring in the city of Lille.

The investigation on suspicion of complicity in a pimping operation is the latest judicial headache for the Socialist ex-finance minister. The move could lead to a trial but it falls short of charging him.

"Every time he tries to improve his image by giving a conference on economic matters or travelling overseas, one or another of his legal difficulties catches up with him, and he can't quite get rid of this increasingly difficult reputation that he has," Christopher Mesnooh, a Paris-based Franco-American lawyer who has no business involvement in the inquiry, told Reuters TV in Paris.

NEW YORK STATE JUDGE TO CONSIDER MOTION TO THROW OUT SUIT

Under U.S. law, the civil lawsuit against Strauss-Kahn remains viable even after the dismissal of criminal charges. The standard of proof in civil cases is also less strict than in criminal prosecutions.

Wednesday's hearing will take place before Bronx Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon, who will consider whether to toss the case based on Strauss-Kahn's claim of immunity. Neither Strauss-Kahn nor Diallo will appear in court.

Strauss-Kahn's lawyers said in court papers that he enjoyed legal protection from both criminal and civil claims by virtue of his position as the IMF's top executive, even after he resigned May 18 in the days following his arrest.

Legal experts expressed some doubts about Strauss-Kahn's assertion of diplomatic immunity when his lawyers filed the motion to dismiss in October.

Diallo's attorneys, meanwhile, argue in court papers that Strauss-Kahn enjoyed "limited immunity" at best, a form of protection that would not shield him from criminal or civil prosecution in a sexual assault case. And they point out that the IMF did not assert immunity on Strauss-Kahn's behalf after his arrest.

When Strauss-Kahn was pulled from an Air France flight by New York police May 14, 2011, he told the officers he had diplomatic immunity, according to court documents. Hours later, however, he rescinded his assertion, saying he simply wanted to know whether he needed an attorney.

William Taylor, one of Strauss-Kahn's attorneys, declined to comment. He has previously said that Strauss-Kahn did not attempt to assert his immunity during the criminal case in order to "defend against the false charges and to clear his name."

Diallo's attorneys have argued that his failure to claim immunity when facing jail time undermines the validity of his current argument.

Diallo attorney Kenneth Thompson declined to comment, saying he would stand by the arguments in his legal papers.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; additional reporting by Lucien Libert in Paris; Editing by Dan Burns)

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