IMF chief vows to fight sex assault charge

2011-05-16 07:58

International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was scheduled to appear before a judge this morning vowing to fight charges of sexually assaulting a New York hotel chambermaid – a scandal that is likely to bury his dreams of becoming the next French president.

The veteran French politician denies allegations of attempting to rape the maid in a luxury hotel, lawyer Benjamin Brafman told reporters.

“He intends to vigorously defend these charges and denies any wrongdoing,” Brafman said outside the courthouse where the IMF chief will appear.

The bombshell news of the arrest of one of the world’s most powerful men has left the IMF reeling, ahead of critical talks on the fallout of the debt crisis sweeping the euro zone.

Strauss-Kahn (62) has hired a barrage of top lawyers, as questions swirled over whether he could escape prosecution. But late last night, a New York police spokesperson said the IMF chief did not have the right to diplomatic immunity.

Another lawyer William Taylor told journalists that the arraignment was postponed until today so Strauss-Kahn could undergo further testing by police.

“Our client willingly consented to a scientific and forensic examination,” Taylor said, adding the IMF chief was “tired but he’s fine”.

A former French finance minister, Strauss-Kahn had been expected to throw his hat into the ring for the 2012 French election, challenging President Nicolas Sarkozy.

But his political ambitions look to be in tatters, after he was yanked off an Air France flight on Saturday just minutes before take-off.

He was taken to a police station in Harlem from where he was led away late yesterday in handcuffs to a waiting police car and taken to an unknown destination.

He has been charged with a “criminal sexual act, unlawful imprisonment, and attempted rape” of a 32-year-old woman, a police spokesperson said.

The woman, employed for the past three years at the luxury Sofitel hotel near Times Square, picked Strauss-Kahn out of a line-up yesterday, as police said they had won a warrant to seek DNA evidence on his clothes.

The woman alleged he had assaulted her in his suite when he got out of his shower naked.

“She was in the room. She thought it was empty. That’s when he approached her from behind and touched her inappropriately. He forced her to perform a sexual act on him,” a police spokesperson told AFP.

He described the victim as “female, black, 32 years old,” but could not confirm details given in the New York Times that the IMF chief pulled her into the bedroom and onto the bed and then locked the door.

She managed to fight him off, but he dragged her down the hallway to the bathroom, where he sexually assaulted her a second time, the daily said.

MSNBC television said that in the bathroom, Strauss-Kahn forced the maid to perform oral sex on him and tried to remove her underwear.

Strauss-Kahn’s wife, high-profile French television journalist Anne Sinclair, said she did not believe the allegations against her husband, telling AFP: “I have no doubt his innocence will be established.”

Strauss-Kahn, who has been widely praised for his stewardship of the IMF, is so well known in France he is often referred to simply by his initials DSK.

Even though he has not yet officially declared his candidacy in next year’s French president elections, he had been topping the opinion polls.

News of his arrest threw the Socialist party into disarray, and could prove a boost for Sarkozy and his rightwing UMP which is also facing a challenge from the far-right National Front and its leader Marine Le Pen.

Conspiracy theories immediately began circulating in France speculating that the events were just an elaborate set-up to discredit Strauss-Kahn.

The arrest comes as the 187-member IMF is seeking to aid debt-ridden countries in the euro zone, and the executive board was due to meet to discuss the crisis today.

Strauss-Kahn’s arrest had an immediate affect on the markets, with the euro falling half a cent in opening Asian trade today as markets fretted that the talks on Greece’s debt crisis would be thrown into disarray.

Strauss-Kahn, whose stint at the IMF does not officially end until September 2012, had been due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin yesterday to discuss an aid package for debt-laden Greece.

He was to attend a meeting of EU finance ministers today and tomorrow in Brussels. The IMF said his number two John Lipsky would stand in as acting IMF chief.

It is not the first time that Strauss-Kahn has been tainted by scandal.

In 2008, he was discovered to be having an affair with an Hungarian IMF economist, but the IMF concluded he had not exerted pressure on the woman, although it noted his inappropriate behaviour.

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