This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article below was originally published in the French newspaper Le Monde.
He has always had a double reputation. For some time now, he has been recognized for his genuine economic capabilities and his careless behavior, his sparkling intelligence coupled with an apparent dilettantism, a mind as brilliantly clear as his relationship toward women is troublesome.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn has long been seen as a figure whose promising talent has lived side by side with what his friends before his May 16 charges of sexual assault for allegedly attacking a hotel maid in New York City would discreetly refer to as an "unbearable lightness of being."
For years, Strauss-Kahn, known throughout France as DSK, was saddled with a troubling reputation that worried even his top collaborators. "Too hedonistic," insiders of France's political left would say, ever fearful of potential attacks against him. In this word, hedonistic, so incompatible with the dreams of a righteous progressivism, those closest to him would see the risks of overconfidence in his own intelligence, alongside a certain free spirit, a taste for material wealth and a frenzied desire to seduce women.
This "lightness of being," a reference to Milan Kundera's 1984 novel, has caused him several significant stumbles just as he was appearing to reach the top. After being named French Finance Minister in the late 1990s, he was forced out of office in 2000 after corruption accusations, of which he was eventually cleared.
People gossiped about his private life as well, even as he married his third wife in 1991, the television star Anne Sinclair. In Paris, at the bar of the Lutetia Hotel, a favorite haunt of many a Socialist Party head, one could spot him being too pushy with young women. His adviser, Gilles Finchelstein, his most trusted friend, once drew up a list of the faults that lined up across his political path: flaunted frivolity, and an attachment to a bourgeois lifestyle. But despite criticism, DSK remained a major political player thanks in part to the networks that he established within his own party.
At a dinner in 2006, just before the Socialist party primaries in which he ran against Ségolène Royal, his friend Alain Minc, a prominent French businessman and political adviser, told him exactly what he thought of his presidential ambitions. "You'll never be capable of such asceticism," Minc said, to which DSK responded, "Maybe not for my whole life ... but for two or three years, sure!"
In the press however, his taste for women had become a subject, broached in veiled terms. While campaigning with his wife, he had to respond to a question in a June 2006 interview with L'Express magazine: "You have the reputation of being a seducer. Do you fear the power of rumor in public life?" His return-to-sender response was: "This is not a weapon I would use." The same weekly asked Sinclair if she suffered because of his reputation as a seducer. "On the contrary, I'm rather proud of it!" she said. "It's important for a political man to be able to seduce."
No charges filed
At that time, the journalists Christophe Deloire and Christophe Dubois published a best-selling book, Sexus Politicus (Albin Michel, 2006), dedicating a chapter to the private life of DSK. The testimonies were anonymous and no complaints were ever brought forth. His loss to Royal in the primary for the right to take on Nicolas Sarkozy was chalked up solely to his political positions, rather than his private behavior.
In 2007, he was given the opportunity to make a quick comeback, as the head of the International Monetary Fund. At the time of his nomination, Jean Quatremer of Libé ration pointed out in his blog: "Strauss-Kahn's only real problem is his behavior with women. Too pushy, he often narrowly excapes [charges] of harassment. This fault of his is well known by the media, but no one speaks about it." Several months earlier, on Feb. 5, 2007, during an interview on the Paris Première program, a young woman, Tristane Banon, daughter of a Socialist party regional council member, said Strauss-Kahn had attempted to rape her in 2002. But the television network, fearing defamation charges, covered the name of the former minister with a bleep. Her failure to press charges cast doubt on her testimony.
In 2009, a book written by Antonin André and Karim Rissouli, Hold-Ups, Arnaques et Trahisons (Scams and Betrayals), reported the comments half-heartedly denied of Sarkozy supporter Frédéric Lefebvre to some journalists that "DSK wouldn't last a week. We have photos, they exist! We will circulate them, and the French will not be pleased." A threat to which the head of the IMF responded by asking Sarkozy "to stop the rumors."
In recent months, DSK showed an awareness of the criticisms that he could face. At the editorial offices of the Libération daily, where he was having an off-the-record lunch meeting on April 28, he enumerated three: "Cash, women and my being Jewish." As far as his religion is concerned, he was expecting someone to take advantage of a declaration he made years before to the Tribune Juive that he "woke up each morning asking himself how he could be useful to Israel." As for money, he was able to notice its immediate consequences with the circulation of a photograph showing him next to an adviser's Porsche sports car.
But in front of the staff of Libération, he began with the subject of women: "Yes, I love women ... So what?" Then he imagined a scenario in which his reputation could be ruined by a false claim by "a woman ... raped in a parking lot and to whom someone promised 500,000 or a million euros in exchange for her story."
Also from Worldcrunch:
Charming No More: Strauss-Kahn Braces for the Wrath of American Puritanism
Le Nouvel Observateur
Suspicious Cash Returns to Switzerland