Strauss-Kahn plots defense in house arrest

21st May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Fallen IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn plotted his defense against sexual assault charges Saturday at a Manhattan apartment where he was under house arrest following release from jail.

It was the former International Monetary Fund head's first day out from behind bars since his arrest May 14 on charges that he made a brutal attempt to rape a west African maid cleaning his suite in a luxury Manhattan hotel.

Under strict bail conditions, Strauss-Kahn, 62, was not allowed to step outside the apartment at 71 Broadway, in the heart of New York's financial district.

The building itself was besieged by US camera crews with satellite TV trucks and a contingent of French journalists.

The impressive tower -- a stone's throw from New York's oldest church and the New York Stock Exchange -- even quickly made it onto the New York tourist route.

Guides on open-top double deck buses could be heard highlighting "on your right is the building where the IMF chief is now under house arrest" as they cruised by.

At the entrance, a single policeman stood on guard duty. There was no visible sign of security at the back entrance. However, the bail terms require an armed guard shadow Strauss-Kahn at all times.

Strauss-Kahn, who denies the accusations against him, was freed Friday from Rikers Island prison after posting a $6 million bail package.

In addition to having an armed guard, he must live under 24-hour watch. The apartment, believed to be in the name of the security company managing his detention, has video surveillance at the exits.

In addition, Strauss-Kahn has had to give up travel documents and wear a GPS tracking device.

The measures were ordered by Judge Michael Obus in New York state court to ensure that Strauss-Kahn -- until recently considered a serious contender for the French presidency -- cannot flee to France, which does not extradite its citizens to the United States.

While on bail, the once globe-trotting VIP will prepare with his high-priced legal team for a June 6 hearing at which he is expected to enter a plea to felony charges approved by a grand jury this week.

Unless he pleads guilty, which seems unlikely, preparations will begin for a trial that may still be months away.

Defense attorneys promise to "vigorously" contest the charges.

They have given little indication of their strategy against what prosecutors say is strong forensic evidence backing the maid's accusation that a naked Strauss-Kahn chased her through the hotel room where she'd gone to clean, then forced her into oral sex.

However, there have been hints that the lawyers will claim a consensual sexual encounter occurred.

Strauss-Kahn, who is hugely wealthy through his heiress wife Anne Sinclair, has also hired a powerful team of private investigators to probe his accuser, a 32-year-old West African immigrant, and her version of events.

Residents at 71 Broadway were unhappy to hear of their newest neighbor.

In a letter to residents posted by the Wall Street Journal, the building manager said he had not been consulted, but "we have been assured that he will only be staying here until early next week."

However, Catherine McVay, vice chair of the local Community Board 1, said the neighborhood was used to famous people. "We're not too fazed," she said.

The Broadway address is expected to change within a few days when Strauss-Kahn moves to more permanent lodgings and slightly more relaxed conditions.

Once in the next residence, he will be allowed to go out -- after giving six hours' notice -- for medical visits, legal consultations and a weekly visit to a synagogue.

The location of the next apartment is not yet public. Sinclair had initially rented plush rooms in an apartment building in Manhattan's Upper East Side on Friday but was forced to cancel when residents complained about the disruption.

The lurid case has sparked a battle between Europe and emerging powers over who should fill Strauss-Kahn's role at the helm of the world lender.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde is tipped as a likely successor, thereby maintaining the unwritten rule that a European should occupy the post.

Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter said her government could support Lagarde. According to a report in the German weekly Bild am Sonntag, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble also backs Lagarde.

However, emerging economic giants, including China and Brazil, are arguing that the time has come for an IMF chief from outside the old club.

© 2011 AFP

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