The head of the International Monetary Fund, considered a front-runner to be the Socialist candidate in France's 2012 presidential election, was pulled off an airplane Saturday by New York City police and is expected to face charges in connection with the sexual assault of a hotel maid.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn was taken off an Air France flight to Paris moments before it was to depart from John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City police spokesman Paul Browne said.

Strauss-Kahn, the IMF's managing director, was questioned by the police department's special victims office but had retained a lawyer and was not making statements to police, Browne said. He said the former French finance minister is expected to face charges of a criminal sex act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment.

The 32-year-old woman told authorities that she entered Strauss-Kahn's room at the Sofitel near Manhattan's Times Square at about 1 p.m. ET Saturday, having been instructed to clean it and assuming it 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, escaped the room and told hotel staff what had happened, authorities said. They called police.

When New York City detectives arrived moments later, Strauss-Kahn had already exited the hotel, leaving behind his cellphone, Browne said. "It looked like he got out of there in a hurry," he said.

Police found out he was at the airport and contacted the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, whose officers plucked Strauss-Kahn from the Air France flight as it was about to leave the gate.

The maid was taken by police to an area hospital. John Sheehan, a spokesman for the hotel, said its staff was co-operating with the authorities in the investigation.

2008 affair questioned

William Murray, a spokesman for the IMF in Washington, said the IMF had no immediate comment on the reports of Strauss-Kahn's arrest.

Strauss-Kahn, 62, was briefly investigated in 2008 over whether he had an improper relationship with a subordinate female employee. The IMF board found his actions "regrettable" and said they "reflected a serious error of judgment." The board found that the relationship was consensual.

The former economics professor and member of France's National Assembly took over as head of the IMF in November 2007. The 187-country lending agency is headquartered in Washington and provides help in the form of emergency loans for countries facing severe financial problems.

Strauss-Kahn sought the Socialist Party's presidential nomination for France's 2007 election, but was defeated by Ségolène Royal, the first woman to run for president of France for a major party.

French polls have suggested he would unseat incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's vote.
With files from CBC News