© Allison Joyce/Reuters
Justice in the USA: a reporter holds up the front page of the New York Post on Saturday 2 July.
Newspaper and five of its journalists face lawsuit amid spate of leaks about alleged sexual attack

The hotel maid at the centre of the attempted rape case against the former head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is suing the New York Post for libel after the newspaper accused her of working as a prostitute.

The lawsuit was filed against the Post and five of its journalists after a stream of articles over the weekend that claimed she had engaged in sex work both in the Sofitel hotel where Strauss-Kahn had been staying at the time of the alleged assault and afterwards when the maid was under the protective care of New York police.

The legal action, reported by Reuters, says that "all of these statements are false, have subjected the plaintiff to humiliation, scorn and ridicule throughout the world by falsely portraying her as a prostitute or as a woman who trades her body for money and they constitute defamation and libel per se."

The prosecution case against Strauss-Kahn is in deep crisis after the admission made last week by the Manhattan district attorney's office that there were "major holes" in the woman's account of events.

The prosecutors agreed to release Strauss-Kahn from house arrest but said they continue to investigate the allegations of a forcible sexual attack.

Prosecutors said last week they believe the alleged victim, a refugee from Guinea, lied over claims she was gang raped when she submitted a claim for political asylum in the US. She has also lied about her taxes and investigators found deposits made into her bank account of $100,000 (£60,000) over the past two years, some of which came from a drug dealer.

But as the main case flounders, it has been joined by a flurry of legal action on the sides.

A French writer, Tristane Banon, has now filed a criminal complaint in the French courts that alleges Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her in 2003 while she was conducting an interview with him. Banon told L'Express that "I can't take it anymore hearing that I must be lying because I haven't filed suit".

Strauss-Kahn has dismissed her claim as "imaginary".

The maid's libel action suggests that the New York Post had published defamatory articles "in an apparent desperate attempt to bolster its rapidly plunging sales".

In one weekend report, the paper accused the 32-year-old of demanding payment from Strauss-Kahn after having sex with him in his hotel room.

A separate report alleges that she continued to work as a prostitute in a hotel in Brooklyn while under the safekeeping of the district attorney's office.

The lawsuit says that the reports were published by the Post even though the newspaper knew they were false or should have known that they were false.

The unravelling of the Strauss-Kahn prosecution has been accompanied by an extraordinary spate of leaks to the New York media. In the latest, the New York Times revealed details of the account given by the maid to staff at St Luke's Roosevelt Crime Victim Treatment Center just hours after the alleged attack.

According to the paper, the maid said that as soon as she entered his room Strauss Kahn had pushed her on to the bed and began to assault her. She freed herself only to be attacked again.

A director of the rape crisis centre that drew up the report has expressed intense unhappiness about the leaks. Susan Xenarios, a director, said they were "outrageous." "We have been in operation for 35 years and this has never happened before. Everything is leaking it seems," she said. "There are days when I feel psychotic about this."

Xenarios said she was fearful of the impact all these leaks would have on other victims. "I am very concerned that it will have wider ramifications."

She said Strauss-Kahn was a person of "extreme international power. I don't know how that factors in. The whole thing is very disturbing".

In France, the possible return of Strauss-Kahn to the French presidential race has plunged the Socialist party into a fresh round of infighting.

The latest poll showed that even if all charges are dropped against Strauss-Kahn, a majority of French people neither want him to stand nor think he will stand.