The arrest of International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on rape charges in New York over the weekend has not only rocked French politics, but has also raised the suspicion that he might have been set up.
Let the conspiracy theories begin.
Strauss-Kahn has been a controversial figure in France and Europe long before the latest imbroglio. More importantly, he was widely expected to run for president of France next year under the Socialist banner in a challenge to incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy… and to win.
The British newspaper Daily Telegraph reported that, according to a French daily called Le Post, a French political science student named Jonathan Pinet somehow tweeted the report of Strauss-Kahn’s arrest before it became public news.
Pinet claimed he received the information of Strauss-Kahn’s arrest from a “friend” who happened to work at the Times Square hotel in New York where the alleged sexual assault took place.
Pinet, a student at Sciences Po Paris, is reportedly a supporter of Sarkozy’s ruling center-right Union Pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) Party.
Subsequently, the story was re-tweeted by Arnaud Dassier, a French journalist who has specialized in publishing anti-Strauss-Kahn articles, focusing particularly on the IMF boss’ luxurious lifestyle.
Moreover, the first website to break the rape news was 24heuresactu, a right-wing news blog that is decidedly biased against the leftist Strauss-Kahn.
If Strauss-Kahn was indeed set up, the list of beneficiaries is large, including Sarkozy (who would have removed a huge obstacle to his own re-election) as well as other French Socialist politicians seeking to become the party’s presidential candidate.
Rivals and enemies within the IMF would also benefit by seeing the haughty Strauss-Kahn embarrassed and deposed.
The French weekly newsmagazine L’Express speculated: “[The conspiracy] could have come from anywhere. From the French left-wing, from the right-wing or from the IMF.”
Michelle Sabban, a senior councilor in Paris and a supporter of Strauss-Kahn told reporters: “I am convinced it is an international conspiracy. It's the IMF they wanted to decapitate, not so much the Socialist primary candidate. It's not like him. Everyone knows that his weakness is seduction, women. That's how they got him.
Even some of Strauss-Kahn’s political enemies defended him.
Dominique Paille, a center-right French politician, told BFM Television: “It is totally hallucinatory. If it is true, this would be a historic moment, but in the negative sense, for French political life. I hope that everyone respects the presumption of innocence. I cannot manage to believe this affair.
Similarly, Henri de Raincourt, France’s minister for overseas co-operation, told reporters: We cannot rule out the thought of a trap. I refuse to have a personal opinion and say, 'Yes it was a trap,' or 'No, it wasn't a trap.' I don't know…. I am not ruling anything out. If this turns out to have been a trap, let me tell you that it would not be to the credit of those who set it.
Anti-Semitism might also be a factor.
Strauss-Kahn is Jewish and an outspoken supporter of Israel in a country (France) that has long been associated with anti-Semitism.
The extreme right-wing National Front party led by Marine Le Pen (daughter of the notorious Jean-Marie Le Pen) has already exploited the rape story to attack Strauss-Kahn’s character.
Even mainstream politicians have long savaged Strauss-Kahn.
Earlier this year, the leader of the UMP in parliament Christian Jacob described Strauss-Kahn as a “Champagne Socialist” who is not “the image of the France we love.”
Jacob’s comment was widely suspected of being a disguised form of anti-Semitism.
Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, a member of Sarkozy’s government, had earlier said that Strauss-Kahn had spent too many years in Washington and the IMF to really be familiar with France.
“Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is currently far from France, is not necessarily the best placed to know the problems of the French people at first hand,” he told LCI television.
The ferocity of attacks by Conservatives and other in France on Strauss-Kahn seemed to indicate that they feared he could take over the country in next year’s elections.