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IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been charged with attempting to rape a New York hotel maid, in a scandal that upends his plans to run for president of France and throws leadership of the global lender into turmoil at the height of the European debt crisis.
The three criminal charges filed yesterday, hours after the IMF boss was taken off a plane, shocked policymakers worldwide and left wide open next April’s French presidential election. Opinion polls had shown Strauss-Kahn the front runner.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, spent the night in a New York City police cell in Harlem and was to be brought before a judge later yesterday. His lawyer Benjamin Brafman said he will plead not guilty.
A hotel maid, 32, alleged Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted her in his $3,000-a-night (€2,130) suite at the luxury Sofitel in Times Square on Saturday, police spokesman Paul Browne said. The IMF chief was charged with a criminal sexual act, unlawful imprisonment and attempted rape.
“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,” Browne told Reuters.
“She pulled away from him and he dragged her down a hallway into the bathroom where he engaged in a criminal sexual act, according to her account to detectives. He tried to lock her into the hotel room.”
The head of the IMF, which acts as a guardian of the global economy, does not have diplomatic immunity and appeared to have fled the hotel after the incident, leaving his cell phone behind, Browne said.
Strauss-Kahn, who helped galvanise leaders to inject millions of dollars into the world economy during the 2007-09 global financial crisis and to design rescue plans for Europe’s debt-laden countries, was led off an Air France plane minutes before it left for Paris from JFK airport on Saturday.
According to New York state law, a criminal sexual act carries a potential sentence of 15-20 years, the same as attempted rape. Unlawful imprisonment carries a potential sentence of three to five years.
The arrest caused shock and disbelief in France.
“The news ... struck like a thunderbolt,” said Socialist leader Martine Aubry, 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 France’s image.”
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said her rival’s presidential hopes had been crushed.
The allegations are a major embarrassment for the IMF. It named the number 2 official, John Lipsky, as acting chief while Strauss-Kahn is out of Washington and said the fund remains “fully functioning and operational”.
Greece, which is struggling to meet the terms of a €110 billion European Union/IMF bailout, said the arrest would not affect its fiscal reforms, which have sparked political unrest.
However, one official said there could be some short-term delays in bailout talks in which Strauss-Kahn was playing a pivotal role.
The IMF said another Fund official would step in for Strauss-Kahn at a meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels today where debt rescue deals will be discussed.
Strauss-Kahn’s wife Anne Sinclair, a celebrity in her own right as a former television interviewer, appealed for “restraint and decency”.
“I do not believe for a single second the accusations levelled against my husband,” she said. “I do not doubt his innocence will be established.”
One of the IMF chief’s French-based lawyers, Leon Lef Forster, warned of the risk of “a media circus”.