Dominique Strauss-Kahn meets accuser at Paris hearing

Strauss-Kahn returned to France in August after a court in New York dropped charges that he attempted to rape hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo in his luxury suite.

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Dominique Strauss-Kahn emerged smiling on Thursday from a two-hour meeting with French woman Tristane Banon who has accused him of trying to rape her in 2003, in a legal confrontation that will help to determine whether the case is upheld.

Strauss-Kahn, 62, the former IMF director, returned to France in August after a court in New York dropped charges that he attempted to rape hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo in his luxury suite.

Banon, 30 years Strauss-Kahn's junior, says he tried to rape her eight years ago in an empty apartment, tearing at her clothes and forcing her to fight him off.

He denies Banon's allegations, calling them "imaginary" in a televised interview earlier this month.

Strauss-Kahn has said he would play no role in the 2012 presidential election, but the Socialist heavyweight once favoured to become president retains influence in his party.

The pair met on Thursday at a police station in Paris.

Smiling, tanned and dressed in a well-tailored dark suit, Strauss-Kahn emerged from the police station first and stepped into a chauffeured car with tinted windows, making no comment to the media.

Banon came out 15 minutes later and was driven away in a convoy of three unmarked police vehicles with sirens blaring. She is due to appear on a television news programme at 1800 GMT.

A lawyer for Strauss-Kahn told Le Parisien newspaper that both parties had stuck to their versions of the encounter.

The meeting, which took place before a judge, is a common ritual in French police investigations that will help to determine whether a charge of attempted rape is upheld, downgraded to sexual assault or dropped.

The statute of limitation for attempted rape is 10 years, versus three years for sexual assault. The top prosecutor in Paris extended a preliminary investigation into Banon's accusation to make time for the confrontation, which took place at her lawyer's request.

While Banon has said she is determined to see Strauss-Kahn face a criminal trial, legal sources doubt a charge of attempted rape can be upheld in the absence of physical evidence.

Banon, a journalist, has accused Strauss-Kahn of trying to force himself on her when she went to interview him for a book she was researching.

According to police sources, Strauss-Kahn, who spoke to police alone about the charge shortly after his return to France, has said he tried to kiss Banon but denies sexual assault.

Other high-profile witnesses in the case include Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande, favoured to win against President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Earlier this week, Strauss-Kahn's lawyers in New York invoked his diplomatic status in an attempt to have civil charges brought against him by Diallo thrown out, after a criminal court abandoned the case in August.

In an interview with French television, Strauss-Kahn said the nine-minute sexual encounter with Diallo that triggered his arrest and a three-month legal battle was consensual, saying: "It was a moral error and I am not proud of it."

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