New York – Fallen International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn launched what promises to be a long campaign to clear his name today, pleading not guilty to charges that he tried to rape a hotel maid.
Arriving at the court, grave-faced, with his wife, Anne Sinclair on his arm and his defense team, Strauss-Kahn was met with shouts of “shame on you” by around 100 women dressed as hotel maids protesting outside.
The chants were so loud they could be heard through the 13th floor of the court-room where he entered his formal plea before Judge Michael Obus. The next court hearing was set for July 18.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, was one of the most influential people in the global economy and widely considered to be a leading contender for the French presidency until his shocking arrest on May 14 on an Air France plane about to depart New York for Paris.
He pleaded not guilty to all seven counts, including attempted rape, in what prosecutors say was a brutal assault on a 32-year-old immigrant from west Africa sent to clean his luxury suite at Manhattan’s Sofitel.
Strauss-Kahn, who swapped his fine suits for prison garb before being granted bail a week after his arrest, said through his high-profile lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, that he intends to fight hard.
Before the hearing, Brafman indicated in a letter filed in court that he was unhappy with media leaks airing the evidence, which claims to show that the French politician’s semen was found on the maid’s shirt.
In the US pre-trial process known as “discovery,” parties are obliged to answer questions about their opponent’s evidence collection. Prosecutors have told Brafman that he will be given materials, but in the proper time.
In an interview broadcast yesterday, Brafman told France’s M6 television show “66 Minutes” that his client will be acquitted.
“We have a chance to win in this case because I don’t think Mr Strauss-Kahn is guilty of the charges. I believe he’s going to be exonerated,” he said, reiterating his earlier predictions.
“It is a sincere statement and a good-faith belief in the outcome.”
Strauss-Kahn spent yesterday hidden away in his luxury rental house in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighbourhood while journalists gathered outside.
The house arrest has given Strauss-Kahn a high degree of privacy as he huddles with Brafman, who has represented a number of high-profile stars including Michael Jackson.
But he was back in the media glare early this morning, with a swarm of some 200 journalists – many of them from media outlets in France where the story is being followed moment-by-moment – queuing to get in for the hearing.
Strauss-Kahn’s arrest and quick resignation from his post as head of the IMF threw the global lender and economic policy powerhouse into disarray just as it grapples with debt crises in the European Union.
Many in France believe that the Socialist party figure has been mistreated, but the case has also stirred unusually vigorous debate in the country over
long-taboo subjects such as sexual harassment.
Strauss-Kahn, whose wife is an American-born art heiress and famous former French television journalist, is spending vast sums on his defense. Just the bill for his home detention costs some $200?000 a month, according to prosecutors, while the TriBeCa rental is estimated to cost $50?000 a month.
In addition to Brafman, Strauss-Kahn is employing private investigators believed to be digging into the personal life of the maid, who immigrated from Guinea. Lawyers claim to have information that could “gravely undermine” her position, but they have not given more detail.
The prosecution is also led by big guns Joan Illuzzi-Orbon and Ann Prunty. Illuzzi-Orbon is head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s hate crimes unit.
Brafman has hinted at a possible argument that a sexual encounter did take place, but that it was consensual.
“Ultimately juries treat people fairly in most cases,” Brafman told M6.