IMF chief denies sexual assault charges

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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 worn, wooden defendants' bench with hoodlums and drug-users.

The grim charges against the flamboyant and outspoken head of the International Monetary Fund were published in court documents prescribing up to 25 years in prison for each of the two gravest allegations.

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 with each other, directly opposite the jet-setting politician, their long lenses aimed at him like the rifles of a firing squad.

In the cross-hairs of a sex scandal that has torpedoed his French presidential hopes and likely ended 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.

But the judge turned down Strauss-Kahn's offer to submit all his travel documents, post $1 million bail and agree to reside with his daughter in New York, ordering him to remain in jail until the next hearing on Friday.

"We are obviously disappointed by the court decision," Brafman told reporters afterwards, but insisted: "This battle has just begun."

The executive board of the IMF was to meet "informally" later Monday to discuss the Strauss-Kahn scandal, amid widespread speculation that the managing director's position was now untenable and he would have to resign.

The alleged victim, 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.

The maid, described by police as "female, black, 32 years old," alleges that at around midday on Saturday, Strauss-Kahn shut her in his plush 500-dollar-a-night suite.

He "grabbed (the) informant's breasts without consent; attempted to pull down (the) informant's pantyhose and forcibly grabbed (the) informant's vaginal area," the charge sheet said.

He then "forcibly made contact with his penis and the informant's mouth twice and... was able to accomplish the above by using actual physical force," it alleged.

An "anal sexual conduct" allegation mentioned in the charge-sheet was not referred to in detail.

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.

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.

Assistant District Attorney John McConnell likened the case to that of Roman Polanski, the Polish-French film director who "lived openly and notoriously in France" despite facing longstanding sexual abuse charges in the United States.

Prosecutors described how the victim "made outcries to multiple witnesses immediately after the incident" and underwent a "full sexual assault examination" in hospital.

"Preliminary indications are that there may be forensic evidence that may support" the allegations, McConnell said.

The defense argued Strauss-Kahn did not flee the scene as alleged but was simply rushing to have lunch with a witness who will testify for him.

"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.

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 President Nicolas Sarkozy, and had been topping polls for the presidency.

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

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