A man in Paris reads the French newspaper Liberation, in...

A man in Paris reads the French newspaper Liberation, in which the front-page headline reads "K.O." Allegations of sexual assault in a New York hotel have torn France's presidential race asunder and savaged the reputation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, chief of the International Monetary Fund. (May 17, 2011) Credit: AP

PARIS -- Forget what the New York prosecutor says about Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The doubters in France are legion and the country is abuzz with conspiracy theories.

Did Strauss-Kahn bring on his own ruin at a luxury Manhattan hotel? Or did his political enemies set him up in a sinister plot to undo the known womanizer who was a top contender to become France's next president? From the moment that Strauss-Kahn's arrest for the alleged sexual assault of a hotel maid flashed around the world, doubts emerged in France. A week later, with evidence still under wraps and the accused and the accuser silent, speculation abounds.

A poll Thursday suggested a majority of French, 57 percent, think Strauss-Kahn was the victim of a plot. In a country where low blows pepper the political culture, where people think politicians will do almost anything to keep their perks and where President Nicolas Sarkozy's approval ratings are sinking relentlessly, a plot against the increasingly powerful IMF chief seems plausible to many.

"The trap, you cannot not think of it," Cooperation Minister Henri de Raincourt conceded on Radio France International a day after the arrest. "But we must let justice follow its course without any prior assumptions." Strauss-Kahn himself is reported to have voiced fears of a setup involving an alleged rape victim last month with a journalist.

And then there are the precedents. Former conservative Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is now in a slander trial that grew out of accusations he had wind of a dirty-tricks campaign against Sarkozy in 2004 and failed to stop it. Sarkozy has said he believes the scheme was meant to upend his 2007 presidential bid.

Doubts are still raised over the 1994 suicide, in his office at the presidential Elysée Palace, of the man considered former Socialist President Francois Mitterrand's closest counselor, Francois de Grossouvre.

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