Lawyers in new bid to win bail for IMF chief

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Defense lawyers were Thursday to fight for IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn to be freed from a notorious New York jail, hours after the maid at the center of sex charges testified before a grand jury.

Court officials confirmed to AFP that a new bail hearing had been set for Thursday, as CNN reported the defense team would propose a set of very restrictive conditions including wearing an electronic ankle bracelet.

The 32-year-old chambermaid, who has accused one of the world's most powerful men of trying to rape her in his luxury hotel suite, went before a grand jury examining whether there is enough evidence to indict the IMF chief.

"There is nothing consensual about what took place in that hotel room," lawyer Jeff Shapiro insisted on NBC television early Wednesday.

But he later refused to reveal any details of what she might have said in the secret hearing which met behind closed doors.

The single mother originally from the West African nation of Guinea, who has a 15-year-old daughter, alleges Strauss-Kahn groped and mauled her in his room in the Sofitel hotel in New York, and forcibly tried to have oral sex with her.

Strauss-Kahn, tipped before the scandal broke as a strong possibility to become the next French president, has denied all seven counts of alleged sexual assault and attempted rape, as well as unlawful imprisonment.

But he was refused bail on Monday by a judge and is under suicide watch in an isolated cell in New York City's notorious Rikers Island jail, where he has been made to wear slip-on shoes with no laces and a special grey jumpsuit.

He was set to appear Thursday before a different judge in the New York Supreme Court. The court was "going to try to do that in the morning," court official David Bookstaver told AFP.

Strauss-Kahn's defense team was reportedly proposing very restrictive conditions such as wearing an electronic ankle bracelet to win the release of the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

"They think that they have a package that the court will accept," CNN legal expert Jeff Toobin said, adding the offer included "not to leave an apartment, not to leave a hotel room or office. And an enormous amount of money. Plus, the surrender of his passport."

US media reports said New York police had gathered evidence from the hotel suite, including bodily fluids taken from a spot where the maid remembered spitting out during Saturday's attack and which were now being tested for DNA.

The IMF boss and veteran French politician is the most high-profile prisoner they have ever housed in the gritty Rikers Island complex, Norman Seabrook, president of the correction officers union, told AFP.

"We've never had to deal with someone of this level," Seabrook said. "This is a very, very high profile person... a presidential candidate of a major country that is an ally of the United States."

The man used to a jet-setting lifestyle is now confined to a tiny cell in an area normally reserved for inmates with contagious diseases, a prison source said.

Such tough measures were ordered so that "we don't put him in any danger... (We) protect him from anyone who may want to make a name for themselves, take a swing at him," Seabrook said, adding that every time the IMF chief goes to court he would be handcuffed and shackled.

The maid is "scared, incredulous" and "doesn't know what her future will bring," her lawyer Shapiro said, adding that since the alleged assault she "has not had a moment of peace."

"She feels she can't go home. She feels she's been excised from her life," he said, adding she was now being held "in a safe place" with her daughter.

Strauss-Kahn's lawyers insist he did not try to flee the country as alleged after he was detained on an Air France flight on Saturday, and say he left his hotel suite to go to lunch, suggesting he was not trying to flee a crime scene.

Lawyer Benjamin Brafman told Monday's hearing the evidence "will not be consistent with a forcible encounter," and according New York media reports a source close to the defense said "there may well have been consent."

The scandal has thrown the French political scene into disarray, as Strauss-Kahn had been seen as a strong contender to defeat President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's elections.

It also comes at a critical time for the IMF, amid delicate negotiations to help overcome the eurozone debt crisis. There has been mounting pressure for him to resign.

© 2011 AFP

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