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Monday, May 16, 2011

Strauss-Kahn forcibly grabbed the victim's vaginal area

IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was denied bail on Monday on charges he attempted to rape a hotel maid, a crushing blow for the man until recently considered a front-runner for the French presidency and who oversaw world finance.

Looking tired, with a light stubble and wearing the same clothes as on Sunday, Strauss-Kahn listened as prosecutors told a Manhattan Criminal Court judge they are investigating whether he may have engaged in similar conduct once before.

Strauss-Kahn faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted, and he should be held behind bars because he might flee to France, the prosecutors said.

Defence lawyers failed to get Strauss-Kahn released on $1 million (615,000 pounds) bail. They denied the charges against their client, whose arrest has thrown the IMF into turmoil just as it is trying to help fix the euro zone's deep debt crisis.

"We are obviously disappointed by the court's decision. We will prove...that Mr Strauss-Kahn is innocent of these charges," defence attorney Ben Brafman told reporters.

"His principal intention is to try and clear his name and re-establish his good name."

It was Strauss-Kahn's first appearance in court since he allegedly sexually assaulted a chamber maid who came to clean his room at the Sofitel in Times Square. He was pulled off an Air France jet on Saturday minutes before it left for Paris. The case has altered France's political landscape and left the IMF leadership in turmoil.

The judge set May 20 as the next date for the case.

A defence lawyer said Strauss-Kahn did not flee the hotel and that the person he was having lunch with on Saturday, the day of the incident, will testify on his behalf.

On Sunday the maid, 32, picked Strauss-Kahn from a police lineup that included five other men, a police spokesman said.

Graphic details were described by prosecutors in the courtroom. They alleged Strauss-Kahn shut the door of his hotel room to prevent the maid from leaving.

"He grabbed the victim's chest without consent, attempted to remove her pantyhose, and forcibly grabbed the victim's vaginal area," the prosecutors' office said in a written statement, summarizing the complaint against Strauss-Kahn.

"His penis made contact with the victim's mouth twice through the use of force."

The judge's order that Strauss-Kahn should be kept in custody in New York raises further questions about his future as the globe-trotting managing director of the IMF.

The IMF board was due to meet informally on Monday for an update on its managing director. His second in command, John Lipsky, already has been put in charge in Strauss-Kahn's absence.

The White House said the United States, the single biggest member of the fund, remained confident in the IMF's ability to do its job.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Strauss-Kahn had been due to meet on Sunday, said that finding a successor for the Frenchman was "not a question for today," but there were good grounds to have a European candidate ready.

European sources said French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde had been picking up support before the Strauss-Kahn news broke. Former Turkish Economy Minister Kemal Dervis is considered a favourite among the non-European possibilities.


The IMF chief underwent a forensic examination by police looking for scratches or evidence of his alleged assault.

Strauss-Kahn led the IMF through the 2007-09 global financial meltdown, pressing for stimulus measures and interest rate cuts to avoid a depression. He has been central in galvanizing Europe to tackle its debt woes.

The IMF said Strauss-Kahn had been in New York on private business during his $3,000-a-night stay at a luxury suite in the New York hotel.

French Socialist party leader Martine Aubry called the pictures of the IMF chief, which dominated news bulletins, "profoundly humiliating" and told reporters: "Fortunately in France we have a law on the presumption of innocence which means that at this stage of proceedings, people cannot be shown like this."

More allegations involving Strauss-Kahn surfaced in Paris, where a lawyer said a woman writer was considering filing a legal complaint against the IMF chief over an alleged sexual incident dating back to 2002.


Police have said the maid had described how the naked IMF chief sprang on her from the bathroom of his hotel suite, chased her down a hall, pulled her into a bedroom and assaulted her.

She told police she broke free but that he dragged her into the bathroom where he forced himself on her again.

Strauss-Kahn's wife, French television personality Anne Sinclair, jumped to her husband's defence, saying she did not believe the accusations "for a single second," and other supporters in France cautioned against a rush to judgement.

Police say Strauss-Kahn left his suite in such a rush that he left his mobile phone behind, but a French tourist who said she saw him check out told France 2 television he had appeared calm and in no hurry.

After he called the hotel from John F. Kennedy airport asking about his phone, police found him in the first-class section of an Air France flight bound for Paris. He was pulled from the flight minutes before takeoff.

Police say the IMF chief does not have diplomatic immunity from the charges.

Defence attorney Brafman is a high-profile criminal lawyer who was part of the team that successfully defended pop singer Michael Jackson against child molestation charges in 2005. Brafman also won an acquittal on weapons and bribery charges against rap mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs.

In France, Strauss-Kahn had not yet declared his candidacy but was widely expected to seek the Socialist Party nomination.

Early opinion polls gave him a big lead over conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, who is likely to seek a second term at the election next April.

France's government as well as Strauss-Kahn's allies and rivals called for caution and respect for the presumption of innocence. But unless the case against him collapses rapidly, it is hard to see how he could enter the Socialist primary, for which the deadline for candidates to declare is July 13.

That leaves former party leader Francois Hollande and 2007 presidential candidate Segolene Royal as the only declared Socialist contenders, but Aubry or former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius might join the race if Strauss-Kahn is out.

French voters are famously tolerant of political leaders' extramarital affairs, but the allegations against Strauss-Kahn are entirely different, and much more serious.

The IMF faces embarrassing questions of its own, because Strauss-Kahn's character had been questioned before. In 2008, he apologized for "an error of judgement after an affair with a female IMF economist who was his subordinate.

The fund's board warned him against improper conduct, but cleared him of harassment and abuse of power and kept him in his job. It will now face new scrutiny over whether that response was too weak, especially as there have been persistent rumours about Strauss-Kahn making sexual advances to women.

The left-leaning French daily Liberation published comments it said he had made at a private lunch with reporters last month in which he said the three most difficult hurdles for his presidential bid would be "money, women and my Jewishness."

(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols, Lesley Wroughton, Noeleen Walder, Christine Kearney, Andrew Longstreth, Brian Love, Catherine Bremer, John Irish, Gernot Heller, Evren Ballim; Writing by William Schomberg, Peter Millership and Paul Taylor, editing by Stella Dawson and Christopher Wilson)

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