IMF chief denied bail on sex assault

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, must remain jailed at least until his next court hearing for attempted rape and other charges, a judge in New York has ruled.
International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves a New York Police Department building on Sunday. A judge ruled Monday that Strauss-Kahn must remain jailed until his next court hearing on attempted rape and other charges. (Associated Press)

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, must remain jailed at least until his next court hearing for attempted rape and other charges, a judge in New York said Monday.

A tired and grim-looking Dominique Strauss-Kahn appeared before the Manhattan judge to face charges of attempted rape, sex abuse, a criminal sex act, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching. The top count is punishable by five to 25 years in prison.

Strauss-Kahn is accused of attacking a maid who went in to clean his penthouse suite Saturday at a luxury hotel near Times Square. Defence attorney Benjamin Brafman says his client denies any wrongdoing.

The charges stunned the global financial world and upended French presidential politics. A member of France's Socialist Party, Strauss-Kahn was widely considered the strongest potential challenger next year to President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose political fortunes have been flagging.

Manhattan prosecutors asked the judge to hold Strauss-Kahn without bail, saying his position as IMF head had taken him out of the country previously and that the IMF leader was wealthy and doesn't live in New York.

"He has almost no incentive to stay in this country and every incentive to leave," Assistant District Attorney John A. McConnell said. "If he went to France, we would have no legal mechanism to guarantee his return to this country."

Defence attorneys had suggested bail be set at $1 million and promised the IMF managing director would remain in New York City.

"This battle has just begun," defence attorney Benjamin Brafman told scores of reporters gathered outside the courthouse. "Mr. Strauss-Kahn is innocent of these charges."

The 32-year-old maid told authorities that when she entered his spacious, $3,000-a-night suite early Saturday afternoon, she thought it was unoccupied. Instead, Strauss-Kahn emerged from the bathroom naked, chased her down a hallway and pulled her into a bedroom, where he sexually assaulted her, New York Police Department spokesman Paul J. Browne said.

The woman told police she fought him off, but 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.

Strauss-Kahn was gone by the time detectives arrived moments later. He left his cellphone behind.

The NYPD discovered he was at John F. Kennedy International Airport and contacted officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airport. Port Authority police officers arrested him. 

The maid was taken by police to a hospital and was treated for minor injuries.

Authorities are investigating at least one other case in New York of "conduct similar to the conduct alleged" at the Sofitel, McConnell said in court Monday.

Profile: Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Strauss-Kahn was seen as the strongest Socialist Party contender to take on French President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's election. And, as head of the International Monetary Fund, the charismatic 62-year-old economist was also widely considered to have invigorated the global financial body.

Read more on Strauss-Kahn

The unproven allegations were causing deep shock and dismay inside France, where Strauss-Kahn had topped the polls as a possible candidate in presidential elections next year.

Meanwhile, a 31-year-old novelist is likely to file a criminal complaint accusing Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her nine years ago, her lawyer said Monday.

Defenders of the former finance minister said they suspected he was the victim of a smear campaign. Others were re-examining whether Strauss-Kahn's reputation as a womanizer had an ugly, coercive side.

Novelist Tristane Banon's attorney said that after the 2002 attack she was dissuaded from filing charges by her mother, a regional councillor in Strauss-Kahn's Socialist Party.

Lawyer David Koubbi told French radio RTL on Monday that Banon did not file suit earlier due to "pressures" she faced over the alleged 2002 sexual assault, and would now because "she knows she'll be taken seriously."

Anne Mansouret, a regional Socialist official in Normandy and Banon's mother, said she had advised her daughter against filing suit against Strauss-Kahn years ago. She said she believed it was a temporary moment in which he "lost his way" — and that a lawsuit could forever stain Banon's career.

Media gather outside Manhattan Criminal Court in New York Monday awaiting the arrival of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn to face arraignment on charges in an alleged attack on a maid. ((Mark Lennihan/Associated Press))

Speaking on BFM TV, Mansouret recalled telling her daughter then: "Listen, you know, if he had raped you, I wouldn't have any hesitation, but that wasn't the case. He sexually assaulted you, there wasn't any rape per se ... so until the end of your life, you're going to have on your resumé, you know, Tristane Banon is the girl who ... "'

The newspaper Le Monde, citing people close to Strauss-Kahn, said he had reserved the $3,000-a-night suite for one night during a quick trip to have lunch with his daughter, who is studying in New York.

It was not immediately clear who paid for Strauss-Kahn's  personal travel but he and his wife, an heiress to a renowned art dealer, have extensive personal wealth.

He was flying back to Paris for meetings about the French presidential election run-up before heading to meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, the paper said.

Le Monde reported that Strauss-Kahn had lunch with his daughter in a restaurant after leaving the hotel, then took a car to the airport, where he checked in for a flight that he had reserved a ticket for long before the weekend incident.

According to one of her confidantes, Le Monde said, Strauss-Kahn's wife Anne Sinclair spoke to her husband after the lunch and then on his way to the airport. A confidante told the paper Strauss-Kahn had mentioned a "serious problem" but didn't make any reference to the hotel attack.

Without offering proof of his claims or the source of his information, a French politician from a rival party said the 32-year-old maid was not the only one the IMF chief had assaulted at the hotel.

"It's not the first time that DSK is involved in this kind of actions at the Sofitel," said Michel Debre, an outspoken lawmaker from French President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative party, a rival to Strauss-Kahn's Socialists.

"That's where he always stayed. It happened several times and for several years. Everyone knew it in the hotel," Debre was quoted Monday as saying on the website of French weekly L'Express.

In addition to the allegations involving the hotel maid, Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet lamented that there is a "clear victim, which is France."

The hotel declined to respond to his comments.

Fellow Socialists increasingly defended Strauss-Kahn, citing contradictions in the investigation, and pledged to stick to the campaign calendar.   

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty wouldn't comment on the charges, saying only that he was "absolutely confident" the IMF will carry on under the guidance of John Lipsky.

"I have consulted with Canada’s representative at the IMF, Tom Hockin, and that has reinforced my confidence in the fund. I know John Lipsky very well, he is very competent and completely knowledgeable about IMF affairs. He has my full support and confidence," Flaherty said.