IMF chief and potential French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been charged with sexual assault and attempted rape following accusations by a New York hotel maid.
The head of the International Monetary Fund was pulled from an aircraft in New York moments before he was to fly to Paris and was taken in for questioning in connection with the violent sexual assault of a hotel maid, police said.
Mr Strauss-Kahn was taken off the Air France flight at John F. Kennedy International Airport by officers from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and turned over to police, said Paul J. Browne, a New York Police Department spokesman.
He was tonight formally charged with sexual assault and attempted rape and was expected to be arraigned before a Manhattan judge.
The IMF had no immmediate comment on the case, which comes as it confronts one of the most critical phases in its history, grappling with the fallout of the economic crisis sweeping the euro zone.
The 32-year-old woman alleged to authorities that she entered Mr Strauss-Kahn’s suite at the luxury Sofitel hotel not far from Manhattan’s Times Square at about 1 pm local time yesterday and that he attacked her.
She said she had been told to clean the spacious $3000-a-night-suite suite, which she had been told was empty.
According to an account the woman provided to police, Mr Strauss-Kahn emerged from the bathroom naked, chased her down a hallway and pulled her into a bedroom, where he began to sexually assault her.
She alleged she fought him off, then he dragged her into the bathroom, where he forced her to perform oral sex on him and tried to remove her underwear. The woman was able to break free again and escaped the room and told hotel staff what had happened, authorities said. They called police.
When New York City police detectives arrived moments later, Mr Strauss-Kahn had already left the hotel, leaving behind his mobile phone.”It looked like he got out of there in a hurry,” Mr Browne said.
The NYPD discovered that he was at the airport and contacted Port Authority officials, who plucked Mr Strauss-Kahn from first class on the Air France flight that was scheduled to depart at 4.40pm local time and was just about to leave the gate.
The maid was taken by police to a hospital and being treated for minor injuries. John Sheehan, a spokesman for the hotel, said its staff was cooperating in the investigation.
Mr Strauss-Kahn was briefly investigated in 2008 over whether he had an improper relationship with a subordinate female employee. The IMF board found his actions “regrettable” and said they “reflected a serious error of judgment.”
William Murray, a spokesman for the IMF in Washington, said the IMF had no immediate comment. Mr Strauss-Kahn’s offices in Paris couldn’t be reached when the news broke overnight in France, nor could French Socialist Party officials.
He was supposed to be meeting in Berlin today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel about aid to debt-laden Greece, and then join EU finance ministers in Brussels tomorrow and Tuesday.
The IMF is responsible for one-third of Greece’s existing loan package, and his expected presence at these meetings underlined the gravity of the Greek crisis.
Mr Strauss-Kahn took over as head of the IMF in November 2007. The 187-nation lending agency is headquartered in Washington and provides help in the form of emergency loans for countries facing severe financial problems.
He won praise for his leadership at the IMF during the financial crisis of 2008 and the severe global recession that followed.
More recently, he has directed the IMF’s participation in bailout efforts to keep a European debt crisis which began in Greece from destabilizing the global economy.
In October 2008, Mr Strauss-Kahn issued an apology to the IMF staff after accusations that he had a sexual relationship with an IMF subordinate.
“While this incident constituted an error in judgment on my part, for which I take full responsibility, I firmly believe that I have not abused my position,” Mr Strauss-Kahn wrote in an email to IMF staff.
The board found that the relationship was consensual. The IMF employee left the fund and took a job with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Before taking the top post at the IMF, Mr Strauss-Kahn had been a member of the French National Assembly and had also served as France’s minister of economy, finance and industry from June 1997 to November 1999.
He had been viewed as a leading contender to run on the Socialist Party’s ticket to challenge the re-election of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Mr Strauss-Kahn was seen as the strongest possible challenger to Mr Sarkozy in next year’s presidential elections. Mr Strauss-Kahn has not declared his candidacy, staying vague in interviews while feeding speculation that he wants France’s top job.
The New York accusations come amid French media reports about Strauss-Kahn’s lifestyle, including luxury cars and suits, that some have dubbed a smear campaign.
The global financial crisis thrust Mr Strauss-Kahn into an unexpectedly prominent role and boosted his global standing in time to consider a 2012 French presidential bid.
He is credited with preparing France for the adoption of the euro by taming its deficit and persuading then-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to sign up to an EU pact of fiscal prudence.
Mr Strauss-Kahn is a married father of four. His third wife, Anne Sinclair, is a New York-born journalist who hosted a popular weekly news broadcast in France in the 1980s.