Image
© Flickr
US President Barack Obama (R) greets International Monetary Fund's Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn (L) for the G-20 official dinner Septmber 24, 2009.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn is accused of attacking maid in NYC penthouse suite

New York - A judge on Monday ordered the head of the International Monetary Fund to remain jailed at least until his next court hearing on charges he sexually assaulted a maid who went into his penthouse suite at a hotel near Times Square to clean it.

A tired and grim-looking IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn appeared before Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Melissa Jackson to answer to charges that include attempted rape.

The judge granted prosecutors' request to hold Strauss-Kahn without bail and set the next court date for May 20.

Prosecutors had argued he might flee to France if he were released on bail. They said preliminary forensic evidence will validate the victim's claims.

Defense lawyers suggested bail be set at $1 million, saying Strauss-Kahn denies any wrongdoing and is cooperating with investigators. One of his lawyer's, Ben Brafman, said it was "quite likely he will be exonerated.'' Strauss-Kahn will testify he was having lunch at the time the woman alleges she was attacked, his lawyers said.


After the court hearing, his attorney said he was disappointed by the court decision. "This battle has just begun," the lawyer said. "We think this case is very defensible."

Strauss-Kahn wore the same dark-colored coat he had on when police escorted him to his booking the night before, Financial Times reported.

Strauss-Kahn, a married father of four whose reputation with women earned him the nickname "the great seducer," faces charges including attempted rape, sex abuse, criminal sex act, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching. The top count is punishable by five to 25 years in prison.

He was earlier examined for evidence in a case that stunned the global financial world and upended French presidential politics. A member of France's Socialist party, Strauss-Kahn was widely considered the strongest potential challenger next year to President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose political fortunes have been flagging.

Strauss-Kahn was taken into custody on Saturday and spent more than 24 hours inside a Harlem precinct, where police say the maid identified him from a lineup, then headed to a hospital for a "forensic examination" requested by prosecutors to obtain more evidence in the case, defense lawyer William Taylor said. He was taken to a Manhattan court early Monday.

Another defense attorney, Benjamin Brafman, said the IMF managing director "intends to vigorously defends these charges and he denies any wrongdoing." Brafman is a high-profile criminal lawyer who was part of the team that successfully defended pop singer Michael Jackson against child molestation charges in 2005. Brafman also won an acquittal on weapons and bribery charges for rap mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs.

France's RMC radio reported Monday that Strauss-Kahn's lawyers say they have proof their client was at a restaurant having lunch with his daughter at the time he was alleged to be sexually assaulting a hotel maid. The station did not cite its sources.

RMC said the lawyers had pieced together Strauss-Kahn's movements and found that he left the hotel at midday, after paying his bill and handing in his key, then went to eat with his daughter and took a taxi to the airport.

The schedule meant he had already left the hotel at the time the maid alleged he chased her down a corridor, forced her into a room and assaulted her, RMC reported on its website, adding that the lawyers had material evidence and witnesses.

Past attack alleged

In France on Monday, a lawyer for a woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by Strauss-Kahn nine years ago said she now wants to file a legal complaint against the IMF head.

Lawyer David Koubbi told RTL radio Monday that his client, Tristane Banon, did not file suit earlier due to pressure over the alleged 2002 assault. He said she was dissuaded by her own mother, a regional Socialist official.

Koubbi told RTL he is likely to file suit for Banon now because "she knows she'll be heard and she knows she'll be taken seriously."

Strauss-Kahn had his hands manacled behind his back and looked strained on Sunday as detectives led him to a waiting police sedan in front of a battery of television cameras.

French viewers were shocked Monday by the images. In France, public figures are usually shielded from view in such circumstances.

Confirming that Strauss-Kahn "willingly consented to a scientific and forensic examination," the IMF chief's Washington-based lawyer William Taylor said, "He's tired but he's fine."

Strauss-Kahn, 62, was arrested less than four hours after the alleged assault, plucked from first class on a Paris-bound Air France flight that was just about to leave the gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

He was alone when he checked into the luxury Sofitel hotel, not far from Times Square, on Friday afternoon, police said. The IMF said Strauss-Kahn had been in New York on private business.

The IMF is based in Washington, and he had been due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Sunday and join euro zone finance ministers on Monday to discuss the debt crisis, where Greece for one is struggling to meet the terms of a 110 billion euro EU/IMF bailout it was granted last year.

Merkel said that finding a successor for the Frenchman was "not a question for today," but there were good grounds to have a European candidate ready.

The 32-year-old maid told authorities that when she entered Strauss-Kahn's spacious suite early Saturday afternoon, she thought it was unoccupied. Instead, Strauss-Kahn emerged from the bathroom naked, chased her down a hallway and pulled her into a bedroom, where he sexually assaulted her, New York Police Department spokesman Paul J. Browne said.

The woman told police she fought him off, but then he dragged her into the bathroom, where he forced her to perform oral sex on him and tried to remove her underwear. The woman was able to break free again, escaped the room and told hotel staff what had happened, authorities said.

Strauss-Kahn was gone by the time detectives arrived moments later. He left his cellphone behind. "It looked like he got out of there in a hurry," Browne said.

Wife defends Strauss-Kahn

The NYPD discovered he was at JFK and contacted officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airport. Port Authority police officers arrested him.

The maid was taken by police to a hospital and was treated for minor injuries. Stacy Royal, a spokeswoman for Sofitel, said the hotel's staff was cooperating in the investigation and that the maid "has been a satisfactory employee of the hotel for the past three years."

Strauss-Kahn was arrested on charges of a criminal sex act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment. Authorities were looking for any forensic evidence and DNA.
Image
© Andrew Gombert/EPA

His wife, Anne Sinclair, defended him in a statement to French news agency AFP.

"I do not believe for one second the accusations brought against my husband. I have no doubt his innocence will be established," said Sinclair, a New York-born journalist who hosted a popular weekly TV news broadcast in France in the 1980s and '90s.

The arrest could throw the long-divided Socialists back into disarray about who they could present as Sarkozy's opponent. Even some of his adversaries were stunned.

"It's totally hallucinating. If it is true, this would be a historic moment, but in the negative sense, for French political life," said Dominique Paille, a political rival to Strauss-Kahn on the center right, on BFM television. Still, he urged, "I hope that everyone respects the presumption of innocence. I cannot manage to believe this affair."

Candidates need to announce their intentions this summer to run in fall primary elections.

"If he's cleared, he could return - but if he is let off only after four or five months, he won't be able to run" because the campaign will be too far along, said Jerome Fourquet of the IFOP polling agency.

Strauss-Kahn is known as DSK in France, but media there also have dubbed him "the great seducer." His reputation as a charmer of women has not hurt his career in France, where politicians' private lives traditionally come under less scrutiny than in the United States.

In 2008, Strauss-Kahn was briefly investigated over whether he had an improper relationship with a subordinate female employee. The IMF board found his actions "reflected a serious error of judgment" yet deemed the relationship consensual.

But attempted rape charges are far more serious than extramarital flings and could do far more damage to his reputation in France and abroad.

"It's sure that a future president already mired in judicial problems is not well seen by the French," said Patricia Bous, a lab researcher in Paris' Left Bank on Monday.

"It's obvious that this is someone a lot of people were counting on, and because of this all of the cards are being reshuffled. So I don't know what's going to happen, but for me there is a presumption of innocence and we await the proof so we'll see," said university employee Hubert Javaux, also in the Left Bank.

French newspapers all put Strauss-Kahn on their front pages Monday morning, with grim headlines and photos. "DSK Out" read the banner headline on the left-leaning Liberation. "The Doors of the Elysee Are Closing for DSK" read that in Le Soir.

IMF work carries on

The New York allegations come amid French media reports about Strauss-Kahn's lifestyle, including luxury cars and suits, that some have dubbed a smear campaign. Some French raised suspicions about the sexual assault case as well.

"Perhaps this affair will unravel very quickly, if we learn that there is in the end no serious charge and that what was said by this woman was not true, and we all wish for this," former Socialist Party boss Francois Hollande said on Canal-Plus television. "To commit an act of such seriousness, this does not resemble the man I know."

A former economics professor, Strauss-Kahn served as French industry minister and finance minister in the 1990s, and is credited with preparing France for the adoption of the euro by taming its deficit.

He took over as head of the IMF in November 2007. The 187-nation lending agency provides help in the form of emergency loans for countries facing severe financial problems.

Sarkozy, who did not comment publicly Sunday, had championed Strauss-Kahn to run the IMF. Political strategists saw it as a way for Sarkozy to get a potential challenger far from the French limelight.

Caroline Atkinson, an IMF spokeswoman, issued a statement Sunday that said the agency would have no comment on the New York case. She referred all inquiries to Strauss-Kahn's personal lawyer and said the "IMF remains fully functioning and operational."