Lawyer: IMF head denies N.Y. sex-assault charges

NEW YORK — Dominique Strauss-Kahn's reputation with women earned him the nickname "the great seducer," and not even an affair with a subordinate could knock the International Monetary Fund leader off a political path pointed in the direction of the French presidency.

All that changed with charges that he sexually assaulted a maid in his hotel room, a case that generated shock and revulsion, especially in his home country.

Unless the charges are quickly dropped, they could destroy his chances in a presidential race that is just starting to heat up. The IMF, which plays a key role in efforts to control the European debt crisis, named an acting leader and said it remains "fully functioning and operational" despite Saturday's arrest.

Strauss-Kahn's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, told The Associated Press that his client will plead not guilty. He and another lawyer went in and out of the Harlem police precinct where Strauss-Kahn was being held early Sunday afternoon, and declined to answer reporters' questions until the arraignment, which was expected later Sunday.

"He denies all the charges against him," said Brafman, a high-profile defense attorney whose clients have included mobsters, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and ex-New York Giants star Plaxico Burress. "And that's all I can really say right now."

IMF head denies sexual assault accusations
IMF chief accused of sexual assault in N.Y.C.

"The impact of the scandal - regardless of whether Strauss-Kahn is found guilty or not - is to delay important and immediate negotiations for distressed economies, including Greece, Portugal, Ireland as well as politically-fragile Pakistan and for post-Mubarak Egypt," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk.

Strauss-Kahn, a potential presidential candidate in France, had brought the IMF to the front burner in overhauls of European economies that were reeling from the recent world economic downturn, said Falk, and he had received praise for his handling of troubled economies. But his reputation for personal bad behavior may cloud the presumption of innocence in the public eye.

Strauss-Kahn, 62, was arrested less than four hours after the alleged assault, plucked from first class on a Paris-bound Air France flight that was just about to leave the gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The white-haired, well-dressed, thrice-married father of four was alone when he checked into the luxury Sofitel hotel, not far from Manhattan's Times Square, on Friday afternoon, police said. It wasn't clear why he was in New York. The IMF is based in Washington, and he had been due in Germany on Sunday to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The 32-year-old maid told authorities that when she entered his spacious, $3,000-a-night suite early Saturday afternoon, she thought it was unoccupied. Instead, Strauss-Kahn emerged from the bathroom naked, chased her down a hallway and pulled her into a bedroom, where he sexually assaulted her, New York Police Department spokesman Paul J. Browne said.

The woman told police she fought him off, but 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, escaped the room and told hotel staff what had happened, authorities said.

Strauss-Kahn was gone by the time detectives arrived moments later. He left his cellphone behind. "It looked like he got out of there in a hurry," Browne said.

The NYPD discovered he was at JFK and contacted officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airport. Port Authority officers arrested him.

The maid was taken by police to a hospital and was treated for minor injuries. John Sheehan, a spokesman for the hotel, said its staff was cooperating in the investigation.

Strauss-Kahn was arrested on charges of a criminal sex act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment. Authorities were looking for any forensic evidence and DNA.

A member of France's Socialist party, Strauss-Kahn was widely considered the strongest potential challenger next year to President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose political fortunes have been flagging.

"At the top of the polls," Strauss-Kahn tweeted proudly in French last December, linking an article that showed him ahead in opinion polls when French voters were asked whom they would choose in a primary. At a soccer game in a Washington suburb last September, he, his wife and others were seen wearing T-shirts that read, "Yes we Kahn."

Strauss-Kahn also noted that he trailed only Warren Buffett and Bill Gates on a list of 100 "global thinkers" compiled last November by Foreign Policy magazine. Strauss-Kahn was cited for his "steely vision at a moment of crisis" — for convincing Germany to help bail out Greece's debt-laden government, and for helping to put the brakes on defaults in Hungary, Pakistan and Ukraine.

The arrest could throw the long-divided Socialists back into disarray about who they could present as Sarkozy's opponent. Even some of his adversaries were stunned.

"It's totally hallucinating. If it is true, this would be a historic moment, but in the negative sense, for French political life," said Dominique Paille, a political rival to Strauss-Kahn on the center right, on BFM television. Still, he urged, "I hope that everyone respects the presumption of innocence. I cannot manage to believe this affair."

Comments