IMF managing director and possible French presidential contender Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested and charged yesterday with sexual assault, including the attempted rape of a hotel maid in New York City.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, a key player in the response to the 2007 to 2009 global financial meltdown and Europe’s debt crisis, was taken off an Air France plane about to leave for Paris from John F Kennedy International Airport on Saturday.
One of his lawyers, Benjamin Brafman, said that the IMF head “will plead not guilty.”
The news rocked France, where latest opinion polls ranked Socialist Strauss-Kahn as front-runner for the nation’s presidential election next April and May.
“The news we received from New York last night struck like a thunderbolt,” Socialist leader Martine Aubry said, appealing for party unity.
Francois Bayrou, a centrist opponent of Strauss-Kahn, said: “All this is completely astounding, immensely troubling and distressing. If the facts prove true ... it’s something degrading for all women. It’s terrible for the image of France.”
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said her rival’s presidential hopes had been crushed. Strauss-Kahn and Le Pen have led recent opinion polls ahead of conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The IMF declined to comment and IMF board officials said they had not been informed officially of the incident.
New York police spokesman Paul Browne said Strauss-Kahn was arrested at 2:15am yesterday on charges of a criminal sexual act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment.
“We must wait until things settle and see if it’s true or a -provocation,” one of Strauss-Kahn’s French-based lawyers, Leon Lef Forster, said. “We must be especially careful not to get into a media circus and we must wait until things are clear.”
A 32-year-old maid filed a sexual assault complaint after fleeing the US$3,000-a-night hotel suite at the Sofitel in Times Square, where the alleged incident occurred around 1pm on Saturday, Browne said.
Strauss-Kahn appeared to have fled the hotel after the incident, the police spokesman said.
“She told detectives he came out of the bathroom naked, ran down a hallway to the foyer where she was, pulled her into a bedroom and began to sexually assault her, according to her account,” Brown said.
Strauss-Kahn does not have diplomatic immunity, Browne said. He was expected to be brought before a state court yesterday.
According to New York State law, a criminal sexual act carries a potential sentence of 15 years to 20 years, the same as attempted rape. Unlawful imprisonment carries a sentence of three to five years.
The allegation is a major embarrassment to the IMF, which has authorized billions of US dollars of lending to troubled countries and played a major role in the eurozone debt crisis.
It follows a statement on Thursday that the IMF’s No. 2, John Lipsky, plans to step down in August when his term ends.
The two developments raise the risk of a leadership vacuum at the fund — a particular worry to European countries, given Strauss-Kahn’s pivotal role in brokering bailouts for Iceland, Hungary, Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
Popularly known by his initials DSK, the IMF managing director had been expected to declare by late June if he would run for president of France. The latest opinion polls ranked him as a clear frontrunner.