IMF chief charged with attempted rape after 'brutal attack' at hotel

European bailout meetings cancelled and French politics left in turmoil after dramatic arrest on runway of New York airport

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the man at the centre of the battle to save the world's economy, was hauled off a plane minutes before it was due to fly yesterday and charged with the attempted rape of a hotel chambermaid, throwing the eurozone's bailout strategy into chaos.

The head of the International Monetary Fund, 62, a former French finance minister and, until yesterday, the overwhelming favourite to win next spring's presidential election, was arrested aboard an Air France jet at JFK Airport in New York. A key player in the global response to the 2008 financial crisis and the eurozone bailouts, Mr Strauss-Kahn was charged with attempted rape, sexual assault and unlawful imprisonment of the chambermaid.

The IMF last night held an emergency meeting to consider Mr Strauss-Kahn's future, and its response to the scandal, while the former US Treasury executive John Lipsky was named as its acting managing director. Mr Strauss-Kahn's New York lawyer said he would plead not guilty.

Whatever the eventual outcome, the consensus in France yesterday was that Mr Strauss-Kahn's hopes of challenging Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency next spring are dead.

A New York Police Department spokesman, Paul Browne, said the chambermaid claimed that Mr Strauss-Kahn had assaulted her after he emerged naked from a bathroom in his $3,000-a-night suite at the Sofitel Hotel in Times Square on Saturday. "She told detectives he came out of the bathroom naked, ran down a hallway to the foyer (of the suite), pulled her into a bedroom and began sexually to assault her, according to her account," Mr Browne said.

"She pulled away from him and he dragged her down a hallway into the bathroom where he engaged in a criminal sexual act, according to her account to detectives. He tried to lock her into the hotel room."

Mr Browne said there were signs that Mr Strauss-Kahn had left his suite in a hurry. He had left his mobile phone and other possessions behind him. "We learned he was on an Air France plane. They held the plane and he was taken off," Mr Browne said.

Mr Strauss-Kahn's wife, Anne Sinclair, a wealthy television presenter, dismissed the allegations. "I do not believe for a second the accusations levelled against my husband. I appeal for restraint," she said.

Mr Strauss-Kahn, based at the IMF's headquarters in Washington, was flying back to Europe for talks with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, on the debt crisis in the eurozone. He was also due to attend an EU finance ministers' meeting in Brussels today.

There was little schadenfreude from members of Mr Sarkozy's party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire. It was Mr Sarkozy who campaigned for Mr Strauss-Kahn to be given the top IMF job, despite warnings that his attitude to women might cause difficulties in the US. Mr Strauss-Kahn was forced to apologise publicly in October 2008 after an affair with a female IMF economist. An investigation cleared him of sexual harassment.

Some of Mr Strauss-Kahn's Socialist colleagues spoke yesterday of a "trap" intended to force what one colleague described as the "notoriously libertine" Mr Strauss-Kahn out of the race. Others said they were unconvinced by the accusations, but one admitted that Mr Strauss-Kahn had long had a reputation as a man who "had difficulty in keeping his hands to himself in the presence of women".

The biggest beneficiary from his political demise may be the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen. Opinion polls suggest that none of the other front-runners for the Socialist nomination could be sure of beating Ms Le Pen in the first round on 22 April next year to reach the two-candidate run-off next May.

Scandal and success

* This is not the first time that Dominique Strauss-Kahn has had his career derailed by accusations of sexual misconduct. In 2008, he admitted to an affair with a female staff member at the IMF, and apologised for his behaviour. At the time he issued a statement promising to "uphold high standards" in future.

One of the leading lights of the French centre left, Strauss-Kahn has been an influential political figure since the late 1990s. He served in Lionel Jospin's socialist government, before being forced to resign over a corruption scandal in 1999. He was cleared of wrongdoing by a court.

In recent years Strauss-Kahn has steadily raised his profile: he was elected three times to the French National Assembly, building on a reputation as a centrist and a heavyweight economic thinker. After a failed bid to become the socialist presidential candidate in 2006, Strauss-Kahn was proposed as head of the IMF by Nicholas Sarkozy.Leo Hornak

Why Gordon Brown will be watching closely

* Even before Dominique Strauss-Kahn allegedly got himself into trouble, his time as head of the IMF was coming to end. With his ambitions for the French presidency, the organisation was on the hunt for a successor.

Convention dictates that the position goes to a European, and one name constantly linked to the post is Gordon Brown, despite his successor at Number 10 doing all he can to prevent it happening. Mr Brown's "safe pair of hands" would come as welcome relief.

John Lipsky was named yesterday as the acting managing director, but he is expected to leave this summer. That could leave the door open for Italy's Mario Draghi, who has support among some European leaders, though not in The Netherlands. He was hoping for the top job at the European Central Bank but recent events may pave his way to Washington.        

Alistair Dawber

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions