No bailout for IMF chief

Dominique Strauss-Kahn remanded in custody after sexual assault hearing as allegations of other attacks add to woes of former French presidential hopeful

The head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was denied bail yesterday because of concerns he would flee the United States to avoid a trial for allegedly forcing a maid into performing sexual acts at his luxury hotel suite.

As another alleged victim came forward in France with claims of sexual violence, New York authorities revealed that they were investigating at least one other case similar to Mr Strauss-Kahn's alleged assault inside his $3,000-a-night suite.

Mr Strauss-Kahn, 62, a giant of the global financial scene who had been seen as a favourite to contest and possibly win next year's French presidential elections as the candidate of the Socialist Party, was remanded in custody after hearing charges that included attempted rape, sex abuse, a criminal sex act, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching. The most serious count is punishable by up to 25 years in prison.

The shocking case has put the Washington-based IMF into a highly awkward limbo. The decision and the prospect of staying behind bars put Mr Strauss-Kahn's globe-trotting schedule at an end for the time being and the institution may be forced to replace him sooner rather than later.

Additionally, of course, there was the rubble that was once the grand edifice of Mr Strauss-Kahn's presidential ambitions. While it may be that defendants are innocent until proven guilty, newspapers around the world have already offered vivid, if not always consistent, details of his alleged attack on the Guinea-born maid at his hotel on Saturday and subsequent arrest at JFK Airport.

Looking tired and strained, he was escorted shortly before noon into the wood-panelled courtroom of Judge Melissa Jackson who earlier had been handling a parade of work-a-day cases. That it was not just an ordinary Monday morning in her court was clear from the scrum of journalists.

The denial of bail was an early and arguably ominous setback for the defence team, led by Benjamin Brafman whose previous clients have included Michael Jackson and P Diddy.

He had told Judge Jackson that his client's wife, former French TV anchor Anne Sinclair, would be arriving in New York and would pay $1m in bail. Mr Brafman had urged her to accept that he was not a flight risk.

By contrast, the prosecution said the alleged victim had provided a "very powerful and detailed account" of what she says occurred. While diplomatic immunity might have been a consideration for a figure like an IMF chief, it was not in this case, officials said, because the accused was on personal business.

Arguing against granting bail, Assistant District Attorney John A McConnell told the court that Mr Strauss-Kahn had "almost no incentive to stay in this country and every incentive to leave". He added: "If he went to France, we would have no legal mechanism to guarantee his return to this country."

Mr McConnell said that New York authorities were investigating at least one other case of "conduct similar to the conduct alleged" at the Sofitel.

After siding with the prosecution, Judge Jackson ruled Mr Strauss-Kahn would remain in custody at least until the start of deliberations into the case by a grand jury, set for 20 May. Mr Brafman told reporters earlier that his client intended to vigorously defend the charges and denied any wrongdoing.

He said it was "quite likely" the IMF chief would be exonerated. A member of the defence team indicated an alibi was being prepared countering accounts of him fleeing the hotel in a hurry. It will rest on the evidence of someone who was having lunch with him at the time.

If the legal and human drama of the scandal was centred in New York City, its effects were being felt more widely. Officials at the IMF in Washington insisted it was business as usual, while the White House said it was confident the institution was functioning fully.

Mr Strauss-Kahn, a former French finance minister, has been a vital player in the effort to contain the eurozone government debt crisis and the scandal of what did or did not happen in room 2806 of the Sofitel in Manhattan could hardly have come at a worse time.

The IMF chief, who was taken from his first-class seat on an Air France plane at JFK on Saturday by arresting officers, was to have been in Europe this week for meetings on a bailout for Portugal and managing the situation in Greece.

Yesterday's court appearance was delayed from the previous evening after police received court authorisation to make a "forensic examination" of Mr Strauss-Kahn to help them build evidence against him. He was taken from a special victims unit in East Harlem, where he had been for 24 hours, to a nearby medical facility for the check-up. DNA testing was included as well as a scan of his body for any injuries and clues which might back up the maid's version of events. "Things like getting things from under the fingernails," one police official explained.

Also on Saturday, the maid correctly identified Mr Strauss-Kahn in a police line-up. According to reports of her victim's statement, she said she entered the suite at around noon believing it was empty. The accused emerged nude from a bedroom and allegedly sexually assaulted her.

Quotes on a scandal

* "She told detectives he came out of the bathroom naked, ran down a hallway to the [suite] foyer where she was, pulled her into a bedroom and began to sexually assault her." - NYPD spokesman Paul Browne

* "Yes, I like women... so what?" - Dominique Strauss-Kahn in an interview three weeks ago

* "I don't believe for a single second the accusations made against my husband." - Anne Sinclair, Mr Strauss-Kahn's wife

* "We must be especially careful not to get into a media circus and we must wait until things are clear." - Leon Lef Forster, one of his lawyers

* "When we were fighting, I mentioned the word 'rape' to make him afraid, but it didn't have any effect. I managed to get out." - Author Tristane Banon, who claims Mr Strauss-Kahn attacked her in 2002

* "The case and the charges... mark the end of his campaign and pre-campaign for the presidency." - Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front party in France

* "Seduction, yes, but no way would he use constraint or violence. A certain number of facts, and certain aspects of the story we are hearing from the press, make this not credible." - Jean-Marie Le Guen, a Socialist party MP in France

* "The IMF remains fully functioning and operational."- Caroline Atkinson, IMF spokeswoman

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