Even if Dominique Strauss-Kahn is cleared of attempted rape charges in New York, the former chief of the International Monetary Fund will still have to face a similar investigation at home in France.
The Paris prosecutor's office said Friday it has opened a preliminary investigation into accusations by a French writer that Strauss-Kahn _ long considered a top contender for France's presidency _ tried to rape her.
The probe comes just as New York prosecutors are weighing whether or not to go ahead with a case in which a hotel maid accused Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault. Questions have surfaced about the maid's credibility, throwing the high-profile case into disarray.
Back in France, novelist and journalist Tristane Banon filed a criminal complaint this week saying that Strauss-Kahn attacked her in an empty apartment in 2003 during an interview for a book project, struggling with her on the floor as he tried to tear off her clothes.
An official in the Paris prosecutor's office said Friday that a preliminary investigation has been opened into the complaint. The official was not authorized to be publicly named because the investigation is under way.
Banon's lawyer David Koubbi said he was "thrilled" that the Paris prosecutor agreed to investigate. The probe allows investigators from a special police brigade to question Banon and those close to her about the incident.
It could also allow French investigators to question Strauss-Kahn, though most likely not unless he returns to France. New York authorities have kept his passport pending a decision on what happens in the case there.
Strauss-Kahn quit as head of the International Monetary Fund after he was arrested in New York in May based on accusations of assault made by the maid. Strauss-Kahn denies wrongdoing, and last week, he was released without bail after prosecutors said publicly that the maid has a history of lying.
Questions have also surfaced about the viability of the French accusation against Strauss-Kahn, which his backers suggest is a politically driven effort to keep him out of next year's presidential elections even if the U.S. case against him fails.
The French writer's lawyer says criticism of his client is also politically driven.
"If this case doesn't go before a judge ... if this matter is not treated by a jury of the people because of what is at stake politically, it will be scandalous," Koubbi said.
Banon said in an interview with the magazine L'Express that Strauss-Kahn grabbed her hand and arm before the two fell to the floor of his apartment and fought for several minutes, with the politician trying to open her jeans and bra and putting his fingers in her mouth and underwear.
Strauss-Kahn's lawyers have called the incident "imaginary" and threatened to file a complaint accusing Banon of slander. Strauss-Kahn's French lawyer Henri Leclerc said Friday that the complaint has not yet been filed.
Banon made no official report of being victimized after the alleged attack eight years ago. Her lawyer, however, said he has evidence including text messages related to the incident.
Banon has acknowledged the difficulty of proving her case, saying she took action to deal with the trauma of the alleged incident and to refute those who say she's been lying.
"From when we announced this, we knew very well that they were going to do exactly what they did in the United States. We knew very well that anything they could dig up to destabilize Miss Tristane Banon they would, because this is part of a case that was not destined to see the light of day, theoretically, in France," Koubbi said.
After the preliminary probe into her claim, which could take weeks or months, the Paris prosecutor's office could decide to drop the case or pursue the investigation, which could eventually lead to a trial.
The investigation will help prosecutors determine whether her allegations support a charge of attempted rape or sexual assault. Under French law, sexual assault has a three-year statute of limitations _ meaning the 2003 incident would be to old to prosecute _ compared with 10 years for attempted rape.