Strauss-Kahn house arrest draws media, tourists

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Fallen IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn found himself at the center of a media circus and even a tourist itinerary Saturday as he spent his first day in house arrest since being accused of attempted rape.

The French politician and now resigned head of the International Monetary Fund swapped a tiny jail cell late Friday for an apartment in a landmark Manhattan tower located on Broadway between Ground Zero and Wall Street.

But he was barred by his bail conditions from leaving the apartment, while the building itself was besieged by US camera crews with satellite TV trucks and a contingent of French journalists.

The impressive corner building and its notorious new resident also quickly made it onto the New York tourist route.

Guides on open top double deck buses made a point of 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, though the bail terms require an armed guard be with Strauss-Kahn in his apartment at all times.

Strauss-Kahn, who denies charges that a week ago he made a brutal sexual assault on a hotel chambermaid at the city's posh Sofitel, was freed Friday under tight security.

He paid a $1 million cash bail and a $5 million bond and agreed to 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 the 62-year-old will "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 that a consensual sexual encounter may have taken place.

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 to conduct their own analysis of the alleged crime scene.

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 visits 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 sent ripples around the globe, setting off a heated 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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