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IMF chief denied bail in sexual assault case; France in shock

Dominique Strauss-Kahn will remain in custody in New York even as a second possible sexual assault case, from 2002 in France, looms. In France, some speculate the N.Y. case could be a set-up to torpedo the Socialist leader's political career. Others say they have faith in American justice.

May 17, 2011|By Nathaniel Popper and Kim Willsher, Los Angeles Times
  • Newspapers at a Paris kiosk all feature the news of International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest in New York
Newspapers at a Paris kiosk all feature the news of International Monetary… (Gonzalo Fuentes, Reuters )

Reporting from New York and Paris — As Dominique Strauss-Kahn was denied bail on sexual assault charges in New York, the International Monetary Fund chief's native France, along with European financial markets, continued to reel over the lurid allegations that could result in a 25-year prison sentence.

The French Socialist Party leader, ordered Monday by a Manhattan judge to remain in jail until his next court hearing, faces a probable end to his aspirations to the French presidency.

He also faces the prospect of an additional sexual assault investigation, over a 2002 encounter with a French writer and journalist, Tristane Banon, three decades his junior. A lawyer for the woman said she would file an official complaint charging that she had to fight him off and that now "she knows she'll be heard."

Meanwhile, stocks fell in Europe, where Strauss-Kahn has been a key player in helping the continent work its way through the debt crisis involving nations such as Greece, Portugal and Spain. He had been scheduled to attend a meeting of European finance ministers in Brussels beginning Monday.

Instead, Strauss-Kahn, 62, was in a Manhattan courtroom, looking grim as he stood next to his lawyer in his first court appearance since his arrest Saturday on charges of assaulting a maid in his Sofitel hotel suite near Times Square.

The burgeoning scandal, involving a longtime politician who has been known both as a brilliant economist and a womanizer, has led to soul-searching among some in France over the nation's seemingly laissez-faire attitude toward its leaders' sexual peccadilloes.

"Politicians and artists enjoy a particular tolerance on this subject," wrote Nicolas Demorand, editor of the Liberation daily newspaper. "Part of the shock comes also from the unusual scene, until now unthinkable here: police arresting a top-level politician on a matter of morals."

Others in France said that while they could easily imagine Strauss-Kahn having sex with a 32-year-old chambermaid in his $3,000-a-night hotel suite, they could not believe he would force himself on her.

"Seduction, yes, but no way would he use constraint or violence," said Jean-Marie Le Guen, a Socialist Party lawmaker who has known Strauss-Kahn for 25 years. "A certain number of facts, and certain aspects of the story we are hearing from the press, make this not credible," he told France-Inter radio.

Le Guen said his friend knew he would be the target of mudslinging when he suggested he might run for president, but added: "What they are asking us to believe ... it's just hallucinations. I'm a doctor and I know this can happen."

At the 27-minute court hearing, Strauss-Kahn's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, entered a not-guilty plea on four felony counts, including sexual abuse and attempted rape, and three misdemeanor accounts, including unlawful imprisonment. The defendant did not speak.

Brafman, in seeking bail, rejected any possibility of Strauss-Kahn being a flight risk, even though he had been arrested on an airplane about to leave John F. Kennedy Airport for France. The lawyer said his client's departure had been long scheduled and "there is no indication, nothing, nothing that he intends to flee."

But the prosecution convinced Judge Melissa C. Jackson otherwise. Assistant Dist. Atty. John A. McConnell contended that Strauss-Kahn had "a substantial incentive to flee" and that the maid had provided "a very powerful and detailed account" that was corroborated by forensic evidence.

The next court hearing is expected to be held later this week.

In Paris, some politicians and commentators said the affair was a "disgrace" and a "humiliation" to the nation, describing France as the "real victim." Others launched a vigorous defense of Strauss-Kahn, saying the incident may have been a set-up by political rivals.

Conspiracy theories swept the nation after it was revealed that the person who broke the news in France via Twitter was a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling center-right party. Jonathan Pinet said he got the information from "a pal in the United States," but some Web users accused him of being part of a smear operation "orchestrated in minute detail" by the country's leaders.

Strauss-Kahn himself broached the possibility of a looming set-up in an interview with the Liberation three weeks ago, the left-wing paper reported. He said he thought he was under surveillance and cited three difficulties he might face if he were to run for president: "Money, women and the fact I am Jewish."

"Yes, I like women ... so what?" he said, adding that he might fall victim to an invented scandal.

"A woman raped in a car park and who's been promised 500,000 or a million euros to invent such a story ... "

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