IMF chief held for alleged sex assault
16 May, 2011
NEW YORK/PARIS: IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) was arrested and charged on Sunday with sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid, in a scandal that appeared to wreck his hopes of running for president of France.
The charges threatened to create a leadership vacuum at the IMF, overseer of the global economic system, and threw wide open the French presidential election next April, for which opinion polls had made Strauss-Kahn the front-runner.
The 62-year-old Socialist, a key player in the response to the 2007-9 global financial meltdown and in Europe’s debt crisis, was taken off an Air France plane about to leave for Paris from John F Kennedy International Airport on Saturday.
New York police spokesman Paul Browne said he was charged with a criminal sexual act, unlawful imprisonment and attempted rape. He is expected to go before a state court later on Sunday.
The arrest caused shock and disbelief in France, where a government spokesman called for caution and respect for the presumption of innocence.
Strauss-Kahn and Le Pen have led recent opinion polls ahead of conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, even though the chief of the International Monetary Fund had yet to declare his candidacy.
In a statement on its website, the Fund declined to comment on the case, saying only that it “remains fully functioning and operational”. But a Greek official said the arrest could cause some delays to a European Union/IMF bailout for Athens, in which Strauss-Kahn was closely involved.
Meanwhile Kahn’s lawyer said, “We must wait until things settle and see if it’s true or a provocation. We must be especially careful not to get into a media circus and we must wait until things are clear.”
A 32-year-old maid filed a sexual assault complaint after fleeing the $3,000-a-night hotel suite at the Sofitel in Times Square where the alleged incident occurred around 1pm. (1700 GMT) on Saturday, it was learnt. Strauss-Kahn appeared to have fled the hotel after the incident, the police spokesman said. “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.
“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.”
Strauss-Kahn does not have diplomatic immunity, it is learnt. According to New York state law, a criminal sexual act carries a potential sentence of 15-20 years, the same as attempted rape. Unlawful imprisonment carries a potential sentence of three to five years.
Strauss-Kahn took over the IMF 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.
He has faced controversy before. In 2008, he apologized for “an error of judgment” after an affair with a female IMF economist who was his subordinate. An inquiry cleared him of harassment and abuse of power, but 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. A crisis of leadership at the Fund would especially worry European nations, given Strauss-Kahn’s pivotal role in brokering bailouts for Iceland, Hungary, Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
He has overseen changes that have given emerging market countries, such as China, India and Brazil, greater voting power in the IMF, and weighed into thornier issues by urging China to let its currency rise in a dispute with the United States.