By Amaka Abayomi
The leader of the International Monetary Fund, a possible candidate for president of France, has been arrested for alleged sexual assault of a hotel maid, police said.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 62, was arrested on charges of a criminal sex act, attempted rape and unlawful imprison-ment. He had been taken off the Air France flight at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday afternoon by police officers.
But Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, told The Associated Press that his client will plead not guilty at his expected Sunday afternoon arraignment.
“He denies all the charges against him,” Brafman said. “And that’s all I can really say right now.” France woke to the bombshell news Sunday with a measure of surprise.
Strauss-Kahn was expected to be the main challenger against President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose political fortunes have been flagging, in next year’s presidential elections. The arrest could shake up the race and throw the long-divided Socialists back into disarray about who they could present as Sarkozy’s opponent.
It wasn’t clear why Strauss-Kahn was in New York. The IMF is based in Washington, and he was due in Germany on Sunday. His attorney declined to answer questions beyond saying his client denied the charges.
Strauss-Kahn checked into the luxury Sofitel hotel not far from Manhattan’s Times Square Friday afternoon, police said.
The 32-year-old maid told authorities that she entered his suite early Saturday afternoon and he attacked her, NYPD spokesman Paul J. Browne said. She said she had been told to clean the spacious $3,000-a-night suite, which she thought was empty.
According to an account the woman provided to police, Strauss-Kahn emerged from the bathroom naked, chased her down a hallway and pulled her into a bedroom, where he began to sexually assault her.
She said she fought him off, 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 and escaped the room and told hotel staff what had happened, authorities said. They called police.
When detectives arrived moments later, Strauss-Kahn had already left the hotel, leaving behind his cellphone, Browne said. “It looked like he got out of there in a hurry,” Browne said.
The NYPD discovered he was at the airport and contacted officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airport. Port Authority officers plucked Strauss-Kahn from first class on the Air France flight that was just about to leave the gate.
The maid was taken by police to a hospital and was being treated for minor injuries. John Sheehan, a spokesman for the hotel, said its staff was cooperating in the investigation.
In sexual assault cases, it is procedure for detectives to look for DNA and forensic evidence and signs of trauma.
The accusations come amid French media reports about Strauss-Kahn’s lifestyle, including luxury cars and suits, that some have dubbed a smear campaign.
The married father of four 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 that the relationship was consensual, but called his actions “regrettable” and said they “reflected a serious error of judgment.”
IMF may be tougher on Europe after DSK
Whatever the outcome of sexual assault charges against its managing director, the IMF may take a more distant and tougher line on sovereign debtors in Europe under new leadership.
DSK has softened the IMF’s image as a stickler for fiscal orthodoxy and deregulation since 2007, and committed the global lender deeply to rescuing heavily indebted European countries – not the Fund’s traditional clientele.
The French Socialist had been widely expected to return home by July to run for his party’s nomination in next year’s presidential election before he was arrested on an Air France plane.