IMF chief faces growing pressure over sex charges

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IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, jailed in New York for alleged sexual assault, faced growing pressure Wednesday after a top US official cast doubt on his ability to lead the world lender.

"He's obviously not in the position to run the IMF," US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in his first public comments on the case, which could see Strauss-Kahn, once a favorite for France's presidency, spend years behind bars.

Strauss-Kahn, who has denied all charges and is spending his second night in New York City's notorious Rikers Island jail complex, faces a long prison sentence if convicted.

IMF spokesman William Murray said the Washington-based organization has not been in touch with Strauss-Kahn since his arrest in the first-class section of an Air France jet Saturday afternoon.

"We are aware of widespread speculation about the managing director's status," he added.

Strauss-Kahn is accused of sexually assaulting a maid who entered his room at the posh Sofitel Hotel believing it was empty.

The 62-year-old allegedly emerged from the shower naked and tried to force himself on the woman, who was eventually able to fend off the attacks and run out of the room.

The 32-year-old woman has not been identified, and has not spoken publicly about the alleged incident. But her lawyer, Jeff Shapiro, told CNN that his client was suffering from "extraordinary" trauma.

On Monday, a judge refused to grant bail to the head of the International Monetary Fund, saying he posed a flight risk because he might try to escape to France. A new court hearing is due Friday.

A grand jury is due to convene to decide whether there is enough evidence in the accusations to proceed to trial. Such proceedings are secret, and the Manhattan District Attorney's office would not comment on progress.

Meanwhile, a man who says he is the maid's brother said she was in tears after the alleged assault.

"Something bad just happened. She was crying. She did not stop crying," said the man, whom AFP did not name to protect the identity of the maid.

"She was completely devastated. She was with the doctor and the police when she called me on Saturday afternoon," the man said, adding that his sister was a Muslim and did not know her alleged attacker.

His identity and statements could not be independently confirmed.

In New York's Bronx borough, neighbors of the alleged victim spoke of a quiet woman who lives with her daughter and makes the commute from her working class neighborhood to swanky Times Square.

"I know (her) since she moved here about six months (ago). She is nice, a nice girl, hard working woman, and I saw her pretty much every day when she goes away to do this job," the building supervisor told AFP.

Whatever happens this week, the bottom has fallen out of Strauss-Kahn's world.

Until the alleged assault took place in his luxury Sofitel suite last weekend, the silver-haired Frenchman was a global VIP, enjoying a glamorous lifestyle and dealing with the world's most powerful leaders.

He was also widely seen as the man who could unseat President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012 elections.

Now he occupies a single cell on Rikers Island, along with thousands of other detainees, most of them too poor to afford their bail and a few, like Strauss-Kahn, who are considered a flight risk.

In France, Strauss-Kahn continues to enjoy some support, including from conspiracy theorists who claim he was set up. A poll said Wednesday that 57 percent of French people believe he is the "victim of a plot."

Prime Minister Francois Fillon, however, the most senior French official to publicly weigh in on the case, was quoted as saying there could be "no excuse" if the allegations were true, and that it would be "a very serious act."

Strauss-Kahn's lawyers have promised a "vigorous" defense.

During the bail hearing, the chief line of defense centered on assertions that Strauss-Kahn did not try to flee the country as alleged, and that he went out to lunch immediately after the time of the alleged crime.

This timeline, lawyers say, indicates that he had nothing to hide and was not in a panic, as police and prosecutors have suggested.

Another possible defense would be that the alleged sexual encounter was consensual, according to New York Post tabloid, which quoted a "source close to the defense" as saying "there may well have been consent."

In court, lawyer Ben Brafman said the evidence "will not be consistent with a forcible encounter," without elaborating, and another member of the defense team declined to comment on the Post report.

Prosecutors say they have physical evidence, including a doctor's exam made immediately after the incident indicating attempted rape.


© 2011 AFP

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