The scandal-plagued head of the International Monetary Fund is known for his swank suits and extramarital proclivity, but allegations that “the great seducer” sexually assaulted a maid in a midtown hotel Saturday have stunned global leaders and torpedoed his chances to become France’s next leader.
The legal maelstrom surrounding Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 62, also comes at a sensitive time for the global economy, with several debt-strapped European nations counting on IMF bailouts.
Strauss-Kahn was to be arraigned Sunday night at Manhattan Criminal Court and was expected to plead not guilty. Back home in France, the IMF leader should not expect a break from his vive-la-difference countrymen.
“Generally, [the French] are less concerned with those sexual scandals than we are,” said James Sperling, a political science professor at the University of Akron. “But if he’s convicted, he’s going to have a very serious problem.”
Political analyst Jean-Thomas Lesueur at the Institut Thomas More think-tank in Paris was more blunt.
“[For Strauss-Kahn) it’s finished. It’s an axe that’s come down on his campaign,” he told Reuters.
Underscoring the high stakes is Strauss-Kahn’s selection of Ben Brafman to defend him. His celebrity clientele includes Sean “Diddy” Combs and Jay-Z.
Criminal defense lawyer William Taylor said Strauss-Kahn “denies all the charges.”
His alleged accuser, however, picked Strauss-Kahn in a police lineup, according to police.
The incident began when the 32-year-old woman entered Strauss-Kahn’s room Saturday at the luxury Sofitel hotel on 44th Street, believing it was empty, police said.
That’s when Strauss-Kahn came out of the bathroom naked and allegedly pulled the woman into the bedroom and forced her into “criminal sexual acts,” police said.
He later boarded a flight at John F. Kennedy International Airport bound for Paris, but was pulled off the plane by authorities just before it took off.
It was not immediately clear late Sunday whether he would resign from his post at the Washington, D.C.-based IMF, a major world organization, which he has headed since 2007 after leaving French politics.
He was expected to announce a formal run for France’s presidency, but drawn-out legal proceedings in New York could now derail his chances against his chief rival, President Nicolas Sarkozy. Polls have put Strauss-Kahn as a favorite on the Socialist Party ticket.
Meanwhile, the French public has been familiar with the married father of four’s prior sexual indiscretions. Three years ago, he admitted to an affair with a married IMF economist.
In 2002, a French journalist accused him of trying to sexually assault her during an interview.
But rushing to Strauss-Kahn’s defense was his wife, Anne Sinclair, who released a statement Sunday: “I do not doubt his innocence will be established. I appeal for restraint and decency,” she said.
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What’s at stake
What is the role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)?
The Washington, D.C.-based organization began after the end of World War II, serving as a sort of United Nations for the world’s economies. With 187 member nations, it is a powerful institution that provides lending to countries in economic distress and ensures exchange-rate stability.
What does Dominique Strauss-Kahn do at the IMF?
He took the key role of managing director in November 2007, and has headed IMF proposals, such as whether to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.
Strauss-Kahn is a key player in Europe, helping to bridge talks between the IMF and the debt-burdened countries of Greece, Portugal and Ireland, which have sought financial bailouts.
He also meets with world leaders to discuss pressing economic issues and was supposed to be in Berlin on Sunday to talk with German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the European debt crisis.
How will his arrest affect the world’s economic markets?
Given Strauss-Kahn’s key role in Europe, the markets are expected to react negatively Monday, the first day of trading after Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, some industry watchers predict.
Still, some economists said his arrest wouldn’t cause bailout negotiations to implode because the IMF is still able to function without him.