IMF chief to be charged over sex attack

2011-05-15 07:27

New York - IMF chief and possible French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn was taken into police custody and is expected to be charged on Sunday with an alleged sexual assault of a hotel maid in New York City, police said.

"We anticipate he is going to be formally arrested and charged in an hour," NYPD spokesperson Paul Browne said around 23:15 on Saturday (03:15 GMT on Sunday).

"He will be charged with a criminal sexual act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment."

Strauss-Kahn, one of the world's top international diplomats responsible for handling financial crises, was removed from an Air France plane and taken into custody 10 minutes before the flight was to take off for Paris from John F Kennedy International Airport, New York police spokesman Paul Browne said.

A 32-year-old maid filed a sexual assault complaint after fleeing the $3 000-a-night hotel suite at the upscale Sofitel in Times Square where the alleged incident occurred, Browne said.

Strauss-Kahn, 62, who has been considered a possible Socialist Party candidate in the French presidential election next April, left the hotel after the incident, the police spokesperson said.

Browne gave reporters an account of events which led to the state charges against Strauss-Kahn. "She told detectives he came out of the bathroom naked, ran down a hallway to the foyer where she was, pulled her into a bedroom and began to sexually assault her, according to her account.

Worldwide embarrassment

"She pulled away from him and he dragged her down a hallway into the bathroom where he engaged in a criminal sexual act, according to her account to detectives. He tried to lock her into the hotel room," Browne added.

Browne said Strauss-Kahn does not have diplomatic immunity. He is expected to be brought before district court on Sunday.

According to New York state law, a criminal sexual act includes forcibly compelling someone to engage in oral sex.

The allegation will be a major worldwide embarrassment to the IMF, which has authorised billions of dollars in lending programmes to troubled countries and has played a major role in the euro zone debt crisis.

It follows the announcement on Thursday the IMF's No 2 official, John Lipsky, plans to step down in August when his term ends.

The IMF managing director has yet to say whether he will run for president, although French opinion polls put him as a clear winner over conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy if the two faced off in an election.

"The NYPD realised he had fled, he had left his cell phone behind," Browne said. "We learned he was on an Air France plane. They held the plane and he was taken off and is now being held in police custody for questioning."

The maid "was brought by EMS (emergency medical services) to the Roosevelt Hospital, where she was treated for minor injuries", Browne said.

Strauss-Kahn was on his way to Europe for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday.

Past controversy

The woman has not been named.

Strauss-Kahn took over the International Monetary Fund in November 2007 for a five-year term scheduled to end next year.

Before that, he was a French finance minister, member of the French National Assembly and a professor of economics at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris.

The IMF declined to comment and IMF board officials told Reuters they had not been informed officially of the incident.

Strauss-Kahn has faced controversy before. In October 2008, he apologised for "an error of judgment" for an affair with a female IMF economist who was his subordinate. An inquiry cleared him of harassment and abuse of power, although he was warned by the fund's board of member countries against further improper conduct.

Strauss-Kahn apologised to the woman, Piroska Nagy, and his wife, French television personality Anne Sinclair, as well as to IMF employees for the trouble he had caused.

Since taking over the IMF, he has won plaudits for putting the fund, the world's main overseer of the global economic system, at the centre of global efforts to cope with the financial meltdown of 2007-09.

Strauss-Kahn introduced sweeping changes at the global institution to ensure that countries swamped by the financial collapse had access to emergency loans. He was pivotal in brokering a bailout programme for Iceland, Hungary, Greece, Ireland, and recently Portugal.

Leadership vacuum

He has also overseen internal changes that have given emerging market countries, such as China, India and Brazil, greater voting power in the institution, and weighed into thornier issues by urging China to allow its currency to rise in value in a dispute with the United States.

Based in Washington at the IMF's headquarters, Strauss-Kahn has continued to spend a lot of time in France, fanning speculation he was considering re-entering politics as a presidential candidate.

Lipsky's planned departure and now Strauss-Kahn's detention raises questions about a possible leadership vacuum should the IMF chief be charged by US authorities or face possible discipline by the IMF board.

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