IMF boss begins first night in jail

IMF boss begins first night in jail

IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn woke today in a notorious jail on an attempted rape charge as the outside world swirled with questions about the truth of the accusations.

The 62-year-old managing director of the International Monetary Fund spent an uneventful night at the Rikers Island complex after being denied bail.

In asking that he be kept behind bars on charges he tried to rape a hotel maid, prosecutors had warned that the wealthy banker might flee to France and put himself beyond the reach of US law, like the filmmaker Roman Polanski.

Defence lawyers have insisted there was no force involved and predicted Strauss-Kahn would be vindicated. However his arrest and detention have sent shock waves through the financial world, as well as French politics and culture.

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, Ms Fekter's Spanish counterpart, said Strauss-Kahn has to decide for himself whether he wants to step down, considering the "extraordinarily serious" 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.

Strauss-Kahn, a member of France's Socialist party, was widely considered the strongest potential challenger next year to President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Defenders of Strauss-Kahn, a former finance minister, said they suspected a smear campaign or a set-up. Others expressed sympathy.

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

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

"K.O." screamed banner headlines in France's Le Parisien and Liberation papers, with full-page photos of an unshaven Strauss-Kahn in the New York court where he was ordered held without bail.

Strauss-Kahn's situation could translate to political leverage for President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is likely to get a populist boost from reports that his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, is pregnant.

Financial and world leaders are already speculating on who would succeed Strauss-Kahn at the IMF.

A final choice would largely hinge on whether the US and the European Union continue to split the jobs of the two Washington-based sister organisations - the IMF and the World Bank.

Strauss-Kahn was ordered to be held at least until a court proceeding on Friday. He cannot claim diplomatic immunity because he was in New York on personal business.

Because of his high profile, Strauss-Kahn is being held in protective custody on Rikers Island, away from most detainees. Unlike most prisoners who share 50-bed barracks, he has a single-bed cell and eats all meals alone there. He has a prison guard escort when he is outside his cell.

Rikers, on an island in the East River between the Bronx and Queens, is one of the country's largest jail complexes, with a daily inmate population of about 14,000.

Its history includes run-ins between inmates and guards. In one case last year, a guard was sentenced to six years in prison for ordering inmate beatings as part of a rogue disciplinary system. Prosecutors said he imposed order by having teenage inmates beat other teenagers who had stepped out of line.

Also last year, more than a dozen guards were injured while quelling fights between inmates awaiting pre-trial hearings. And in February, the city settled a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the family of an inmate who died after a scuffle with guards.

Strauss-Kahn is accused of attacking a maid who had gone in to clean his Times Square penthouse suite on Saturday afternoon. 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.


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