World

IMF chief Strauss-Kahn on suicide watch: report

International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, charged with trying to rape a maid at a New York hotel where he was staying, has been placed under a suicide watch in jail, officials say.

Lawyer for maid comes forward

International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is being held at Rikers Island prison in New York on charges of sexually attacking a hotel maid as European financial leader's called on him to resign his high-profile post Tuesday. (Emannuel Dunand-Pool/Getty)

International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, charged with trying to rape a maid at a New York hotel where he was staying, has been placed under a suicide watch in jail, officials say.

Norman Seabrook, who heads New York City's corrections officer union, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Strauss-Kahn was under the watch at Rikers Island.

A law enforcement official also confirmed that Strauss-Kahn was placed under the watch after undergoing a mental health evaluation. The official said the 62-year-old Strauss-Kahn did not try to harm himself.

The banker and diplomat has a whole jail wing to himself, a medical device to make sure he doesn't stop breathing at night and guards checking him 24 hours a day to make sure he doesn't kill himself.  

Strauss-Kahn was held without bail and sent to Rikers on Monday. He has been given protective custody in the jail, assigned to a facility that normally houses inmates with contagious diseases.

IMF warned over Strauss-Kahn, woman says

Earlier, a former IMF employee who had a brief affair with Strauss-Kahn said she had warned the organization about his behaviour toward women in a letter sent three years ago.

Piroska Nagy, a Hungarian-born economist who had worked at the IMF for decades, left the organization after the affair with Strauss-Kahn in 2008. An IMF-funded investigation into the affair cleared Strauss-Kahn of wrongdoing but criticized his judgment.

The affair is back in the news after the Frenchman's incarceration on sex crime charges in New York. Nagy now works with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London.

Meanwhile, leaders of the European financial community suggested Tuesday that Strauss-Kahn consider resigning after he was charged with trying to rape a maid at a New York hotel where he was staying.

The lawyer for the hotel maid said she feels "alone in the world" and is telling the truth.

Lawyer Jeffrey Shapiro said the maid is an immigrant from the West African nation of Guinea with a 15-year-old daughter. He said she had no idea who Strauss-Kahn was until a day or two after she was attacked on Saturday.

Shapiro said there was no truth to suggestions that she had fabricated her account, describing her as an honest woman with "no agenda."  

"Her life has now been turned upside down. She can't go home. She can't go back to work. She has no idea what her future will be, what she will be able to do to support herself and her daughter. This has been nothing short of a cataclysmic event in her life," Shapiro said. He said she "feels alone in the world."

The woman, he said, came to the U.S. seven years ago under "very difficult circumstances" and is raising her daughter by herself now that the girl's father is dead. The family was granted asylum in the U.S., and she is a legal resident. She has worked at the hotel for three years, according to Shapiro.

Bail denied

Strauss-Kahn was being held on a charge that would normally result in release, but he was denied bail Monday after prosecutors warned the wealthy banker might flee to France and put himself beyond the reach of U.S. law like the filmmaker Roman Polanski.

Strauss-Kahn's weekend arrest rocked the financial world as the IMF grapples with the European debt crisis, and it upended French presidential politics. Strauss-Kahn, a member of France's Socialist party, was widely considered the strongest potential challenger next year to President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Austria's finance minister suggested that Strauss-Kahn consider stepping down to avoid damaging the IMF, which provides emergency loans to countries in severe distress and tries to maintain global financial stability.

"Considering the situation, that bail was denied, he has to figure out for himself, that he is hurting the institution," Maria Fekter said as she arrived at a meeting of European finance ministers in Brussels.

Elena Salgado, Fekter's Spanish counterpart, said Strauss-Kahn had to decide for himself whether he wanted to step down, considering the "extraordinarily serious" nature of the charges.

"If I had to show my solidarity and support for someone it would be toward the woman who has been assaulted, if that is really the case that she has been," she said.

Smear alleged

In France, defenders of Strauss-Kahn, a former finance minister who had topped the polls as a possible candidate in presidential elections next year, said they suspected he was the victim of a smear campaign. Others expressed sympathy.

"I didn't like the pictures I've seen on television," Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said Monday night, referring to footage that showed Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs being escorted by police outside a New York precinct house.

Showing a suspect in handcuffs is illegal in France since a 2000 law aimed at preserving the presumption of innocence.

Strauss-Kahn was arrested Saturday at Kennedy airport after the allegations at the Sofitel hotel near Times Square.

Strauss-Kahn was ordered jailed at least until a court proceeding Friday. He cannot claim diplomatic immunity because he was in New York on personal business and was paying his own way, the IMF said.

He could seek that protection only if he were conducting official business, spokesman William Murray said. The agency's executive board met informally Monday for a report on the charges against Strauss-Kahn, the managing director at the international lending agency since 2007.

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

Strauss-Kahn is accused of attacking a maid who had gone in to clean his penthouse suite Saturday afternoon at a luxury hotel near Times Square. He is charged with attempted rape, sex abuse, a criminal sex act, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching. The most serious charge carries five to 25 years in prison.

Allegations of other, similar attacks by Strauss-Kahn began to emerge Monday. A 31-year-old French novelist said she is likely to file a criminal complaint accusing him of sexually assaulting her nine years ago.

A French legislator accused him of attacking other maids in previous stays at the same luxury hotel. And in New York, prosecutors said they are working to verify reports of at least one other case, which they suggested was overseas.   

now