Edward Jay Epstein’s piece on Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the Sofitel affair for the New York Review of Books was in such demand at the weekend that the website was often inaccessible with the weight of traffic. It is a clinical narrative of events on 14 May between 10.07 a.m. New York time, when Strauss-Kahn put in a call to his wife, and 4.45 p.m., when he was summoned off his flight to Europe by police at JFK. It lends support to the theory, still popular in France, that the likely challenger to Sarkozy’s presidency was set up in Manhattan by friends of the incumbent.
Until now, it was possible to say with agnostic hauteur that we would never know the facts. No one, apart from DSK and Nassifatou Diallo, was in Room 2806 on the 28th floor of the hotel when the encounter took place. But we learn from Epstein’s painstaking montage that we can’t rule out the presence of a third party in the presidential suite – perhaps that should be ‘ex-presidential’ – at the time, i.e. between 12.05 and 12.20 p.m.
The man in question is Syed Haque, room service, of whom nothing is known for the moment, except that he refused to co-operate with DSK’s lawyers. Post Epstein, Haque will be in great demand.
Another change: Epstein gets us out of the impasse of ‘character’. All there is to say about that has been said. DSK: libertine in the radical enlightenment tradition. Transpose this story to the 18th century and Strauss-Kahn would have been discovered astride the dispatch boy as he penned a rapid, elegant reply to the letter he’d just been handed. Diallo: courageous woman of colour, traduced minority. But that was in May. By August, when the charges were dropped: bogus asylum-seeker, liar, undeniably black.
The details Epstein has assembled – including the mysterious disappearance (and disabling) of DSK’s BlackBerry in the Sofitel building – shift our attention firmly to plot. They raise intriguing questions about Accor, the French company that owns Sofitel, and about Sarkozy’s friends in general.
Here are a few points worth adding (and remember this is a French scandal, with a lot of minor players):
1. Denis Hennequin, ex-McDonald’s France, became the boss of a large French corporation in 2010. In the contest for the appointment, he bent Sarkozy’s ear, via the intercession of a mutual friend, investment whizz kid and businessman, Sébastien Bazin. The company in question: Accor, where Bazin sits on the board of directors.
2. René-Georges Querry, head of security for Accor since 2003, was at a football match in Paris, Epstein reminds us, in the president’s box, as Diallo was being questioned by Sofitel staff. Querry has never been shy about his connections. In a June issue of the corporate security trade journal Sécurité et Stratégie, he describes his decision to leave the police and work for Accor as follows:
I was neither marginalised nor embittered and I also had the prospect of some interesting jobs [in the police], because the team at the time consisted of Messrs Claude Guéant, Nicolas Sarkozy and [Michel] Gaudin. I had their trust… no worries at all with them.
Guéant was Sarkozy’s factotum at the Ministry of the Interior and ran his campaign for the presidency in 2007; he is now minister of the interior. Gaudin, currently the préfet de police (Paris and outlying areas), was head of the Police National at the time.
3. The game in question was the Coupe de France final, at the Stade de France. Martine Aubry, the secretary general of the Parti socialiste, was also in the box. She remarked to Roselyne Bachelot, the minister for solidarity and whatever, that Sarkozy was going to have to get his fingers off his cellphone if he meant to present the trophy. So what’s new about Sarkozy and cellphones? the spin doctors at the Elysée said when Aubry, increasingly disturbed about DSK’s arrest, went on to raise the matter in public.
4. The leaks from the NYPD, after Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in May, were damaging to his case and indeed to the possibility of a fair trial (especially the news about the DNA match for semen). But the commissioner of the NYPD, Ray Kelly, seemed a touch indifferent when Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers pointed this out. Or so Len Levitt thought, writing in the Huffington Post. He recalled that Sarkozy came to New York in 2006 to bestow the Légion d’Honneur on Kelly for services against terrorism. And that Kelly later flew to Paris when Alain Bauer got his. Alain Bauer? Well, he was a consultant on terrorism to the Interior Ministry during Sarkozy’s tenure. At the same time he was touting for business in North America. Result: consultancies with the Sûreté in Quebec, the LA Sheriff’s Office and, yes, the NYPD.
5. Querry, who left Accor before the prosecution shelved the case, has dismissed the idea that it was at the centre of a plot to keep a PS contender out of the Elysée for the greater good.