IMF chief to be charged in alleged sex assault: police

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IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, widely expected to run for the French presidency next year, was set to be charged Sunday over an alleged sexual assault on a New York hotel maid, police said.

The 62-year-old would be charged with a "criminal sexual act, unlawful imprisonment and attempted rape," a police official told reporters late Saturday.

He was likely to be indicted some time on Sunday, police indicated, although it was not immediately clear where it would take place.

Strauss-Kahn, a Socialist who had been leading French opinion polls for the 2012 elections, was escorted off an Air France flight Saturday just minutes before it was to leave John F. Kennedy International Airport, officials said.

"We took him into custody and we handed him over to the New York City police department," an official for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Authorities were investigating an alleged attack on a maid at the Sofitel New York hotel earlier in the day, police said. A maid in the hotel alleged she had been assaulted by the IMF chief when he got out of his shower naked.

Strauss-Kahn, a well-known figure on the French political scene popularly known by his initials DSK, has not officially thrown his hat into the ring to challenge center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's presidential race.

But the former French finance minister had been widely expected to stand, and polls out earlier Sunday before news of his arrest broke had put him narrowly ahead of the pack if he ran with 26 percent of the vote.

NYPD spokesman Officer Michael DeBonis told AFP by phone late Saturday that Strauss-Kahn has "been taken into custody. He's being questioned about an alleged sexual assault."

It was believed he was being questioned at precinct five in Harlem, which is a special unit dealing with sexual harassment.

DeBonis would not comment on any other details, but according to police sources he had allegedly left the hotel room in a hurry leaving behind his mobile phone and personal effects.

In Washington, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) spokeswoman had no immediate comment.

The Port Authority official said Strauss-Kahn, who has headed up the IMF since 2007, was removed from the flight 10 minutes before departure, at 4:45 pm (16:45 GMT).

"Ten minutes before a flight takes off? That doesn't happen too often," the official said. "He did not resist."

It was unclear when Strauss-Kahn bought the plane ticket, but he had been due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Sunday to discuss an aid package for debt-laden Greece.

He was then due to attend a meeting of EU finance ministers on Monday and Tuesday in Brussels.

It is not the first time that the silver-haired political veteran, who is married to a high-profile journalist, has been tainted by scandal.

In 2008, he was discovered to be having an affair with an Hungarian IMF economist. The affair was investigated by the IMF, which concluded he had not exerted pressure on the woman, but noted his inappropriate behavior.

John Sheehan, director of security at Sofitel New York, told AFP by phone that they are cooperating with the probe.

"The Sofitel is working very closely with the NYPD with their investigation," Sheehan said. "The safety and security of our clients and team members are of the utmost priority to us."

Strauss-Kahn's stint at the helm of the IMF in Washington does not officially end until September 2012, several months after the scheduled date of France's vote.

But the French political world has been buzzing with speculation that he would end his tenure early to stand as the Socialist Party's candidate.

Sarkozy's party has launched virulent attacks against the IMF boss denouncing him as a rich "champagne socialist," and arguing he has been away too long to still be in touch with France.

© 2011 AFP

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