IMF chief denied bail over alleged sex assault
IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn denied Monday sexually assaulting a New York hotel chambermaid, but the judge turned down his $1 million bail offer and ordered him to remain behind bars.
The stunning fall from grace of one of the most powerful men in the world played out in a packed Manhattan courtroom where the 62-year-old Strauss-Kahn shared a defendants' bench with petty criminals and drug-users.
Until the scandal broke on Saturday evening, the distinguished head of the International Monetary Fund had been seen as the most likely candidate to unseat Nicolas Sarkozy in France's 2012 presidential elections.
Now his world has been turned upside down as he faces a raft of lurid charges, including two counts of committing a criminal sexual act in the first degree, each of which carries a prison term of up to 25 years.
Appearing haggard and shrunken under his black raincoat, Strauss-Kahn sat ashen-faced, doing everything he could to avoid the gaze of a courtroom crammed with police officers and reporters from the international media.
Then pandemonium: a group of photographers and cameramen were suddenly admitted and jostled for position in front of the jet-setting politician, their long lenses trained on him like the rifles of a firing squad.
In the crosshairs of a sex scandal that has torpedoed his French presidential hopes and shattered his stellar political career, there was nowhere left for Strauss-Kahn to hide.
"He denies these charges. He is presumed innocent under the law," his lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, told Judge Melissa Jackson.
Strauss-Kahn offered to submit all his travel documents, post $1 million bail and reside with his daughter in New York until the next hearing on Friday, but the judge said no and ordered him to remain behind bars.
The IMF chief will have to trade his smart business suits for prison jumpsuits at Rikers Island jail, where he will be incarcerated in a small cell until his next court hearing on Friday.
"We are obviously disappointed by the court decision," Brafman told reporters afterwards, but insisted: "This battle has just begun."
The IMF board met to discuss the Strauss-Kahn scandal, but issued a bland statement afterwards saying they were following events but making no comment on his position.
The maid, employed for the past three years at the luxury Sofitel hotel near Times Square, picked Strauss-Kahn out of a line-up Sunday, as police said they had won a warrant to seek DNA evidence on his clothes.
Described by police as "female, black, 32 years old," the maid says she entered Strauss-Kahn's 525-dollar-a-night suite around midday Saturday, thinking it was empty, before enduring a horrific sexual assault.
"Strauss-Kahn shut the door (of) his hotel room, thereby preventing the victim, a member of the hotel's cleaning staff, from leaving," the charge sheet said.
"He grabbed the victim's chest without consent, attempted to remove her pantyhose, and forcibly grabbed the victim's vaginal area. His penis made contact with the victim's mouth twice through the use of force."
The seven counts against Strauss-Kahn carry a maximum total sentence of 74 years and three months in jail if served consecutively. The judge could allow concurrent terms, meaning he would only face up to 25 years.
The IMF chief was sitting in First Class in an Air France plane about to take off from John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday evening when police arrived and hauled him off.
Prosecutors won the bail argument, suggesting Strauss-Kahn would likely try to escape prosecution by fleeing to France, which has no extradition agreement with the United States.
The defense argued that Strauss-Kahn did not flee the scene as alleged but was simply rushing to have lunch with a witness who will testify for him, reportedly one of his daughters.
"When I hear your client was at JFK airport about to board a flight, that raises some concerns," Jackson said, as she turned down bail.
Strauss-Kahn's wife, former top French television journalist Anne Sinclair, who was en route from Paris to New York, told AFP she did not believe the allegations and called for "decency and restraint".
Separately, a 31-year-old French writer said she would be making a complaint alleging Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted her in 2002.
Tristane Banon previously made the allegation against Strauss-Kahn in 2007 on television, but she had not lodged a formal complaint with authorities.
A former finance minister, Strauss-Kahn had been expected to throw his hat into the ring for the 2012 French election, challenging Sarkozy.
News of his arrest threw the Socialist party into disarray, and could prove a boost for Sarkozy, who is also facing a challenge from Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front.
© 2011 AFP