IMF chief sexual assault charge rocks French
Rumours about Strauss-Kahn's conduct with women have long swirled in French political and media circles.IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest on charges of attempted rape sent shockwaves through French politics Monday, shaking up next year's presidential race and inspiring claims of dirty tricks.
A New York judge's refusal to grant him bail looked like the final blow to any possibility of Strauss-Kahn, the French opposition Socialist Party's brightest hope for winning the presidency, bouncing back from the scandal.
Rumours about Strauss-Kahn's conduct with women have long swirled in French political and media circles, but they were rarely discussed in public until his arrest Saturday in New York for allegedly trying to rape a hotel maid.
As Paris faced a huge political sex crime scandal, photographs of the opposition's top presidential candidate being led in handcuffs by New York police shocked politicians and raised fears for France's image.
The leader of Strauss-Kahn's Socialist Party, Martine Aubry, called the sight "humiliating".
"As well as the alleged victim, the chambermaid, there is another sure victim: France," said Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, environment minister in President Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right government, on Monday.
The IMF chief's woes deepened on Monday after it emerged that a French writer, Tristane Banon, is to take legal action accusing Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her in 2002, according to her lawyer.
In February 2007, Banon recounted on a television chat show how a senior politician had assaulted her, pawing at her like a "rutting chimpanzee."
In the broadcast version of her comments, the name of the politician was bleeped out, but a year later Banon confirmed to the AgoraVox website that she had been referring to Strauss-Kahn.
Her lawyer David Koubbi said his client was previously persuaded not to take action by her mother, a regional councillor in the Socialist Party, for fear her daughter's career would be ruined if she took on such a powerful figure.
Aubry on Sunday called the arrest a "thunderbolt", but gave no clue of how the party may regroup if Strauss-Kahn is taken out of the running for next year's election.
Aubry's deputy Harlem Desir acknowledged that Strauss-Kahn was out of the race but insisted "the Socialist Party is not decapitated, nor weakened."
Among the other potential Socialist challengers to run against Sarkozy are Aubry herself and former party leader Francois Hollande.
"There will be another candidate who will represent the party in the presidential election," Desir told a news conference. "I call on Socialists to stay the course for 2012."
Within minutes of the news of the arrest, Internet conspiracy theories emerged that the arrest was the result of a set-up to discredit Strauss-Kahn, whom polls had shown could beat Sarkozy in a presidential race -- though he had not declared his candidacy.
"I have faith in American justice," said Kosciusko-Morizet. "It is so French to see conspiracies everywhere. I think it is in our culture."
There was no word from Sarkozy's office, but -- with his approval ratings flatlining at under a third of the electorate -- it seemed his prospects could only benefit from a Socialist scandal.
French newspapers meanwhile were unanimous in declaring Strauss-Kahn's political career dead.
"As we wait for truth to be sorted from falsehood, one thing is already certain: Dominique Strauss-Kahn will not be the next president of the French Republic," said the pro-government daily Le Figaro.
"The Socialists have lost the only candidate who was... capable of beating Nicolas Sarkozy," the left-leaning Liberation wrote in its editorial.
"France is experiencing its first Anglo Saxon-style sex scandal and is suddenly entering an area of public debate that until now... was confined to rumours and gossip within a small circle of initiates."
Strauss-Kahn's lawyers told a New York court at his arraignment on Monday that he denied all the charges, but the judge denied him bail.
"He is going to fight, I am sure of that," said Socialist lawmaker Manuel Valls, a friend of Strauss-Kahn and candidate for the party's nomination. But the arrest was a major turning point.
"For French political life, there will be a before and an after," Valls said on RTL radio. "We have not yet fully felt the shockwave in our country."
Roland Lloyd Parry / AFP / Expatica