Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who eight days ago was one of the most powerful men on the planet, spent his first full day as an electronically tagged, armed guarded, rape suspect yesterday at a temporary address in Manhattan – a flat equipped (at his expense) with sensitive alarms and 24-hour CCTV to deter him from fleeing.
Not that he is likely to do so. Any false move, and his wife would forfeit the $6m (£3.7m) surety she has put up. And, to make sure he can't so much as slip out for a sandwich, he is forbidden to leave the premises except for legal, medical or religious appointments, and only then if he gives the prosecutor's office six hours notice.
All this for a man who, just over a week ago, was sitting in a business class seat of an Air France flight to Paris, whiling away the time before take-off, according to one report, by making a loud remark about the shape of one of the female cabin crew. Then, 10 minutes before scheduled departure, police entered and hauled him off for questioning about the alleged attempted rape, sexual assault and false imprisonment of a maid at New York's Sofitel hotel.
He has since been charged with attempted rape and assault, the most serious count of which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years. He denies all charges, but resigned from the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday. Officials from that office, according to the New York Times, said on Friday that at least two other Sofitel employees have claimed that Strauss-Kahn "made advances toward them during his stay".
Whatever evidence is finally accumulated, neither he nor his accuser could escape the continued build-up of hearsay and online speculation about their pasts. New claims about Strauss-Kahn's behaviour towards women are contained in a 5,000-word Reuters special report which was released late Friday. While containing much praise for his achievements at the IMF (former German official Stefan Collignon said he was "a genius in getting economics and policy together"), there was much about his incorrigible pursuit of women, regardless, sometimes, of whether they wanted his attentions or not.
There was his affair with Hungarian economist and IMF staffer Piroska Nagy, which, says Reuters, was a brief, and – by her – bitterly regretted fling in Davos. "Margaux", a former student at the prestigious Sciences Po university in Paris, where Strauss-Kahn taught for two years, said: "It was known he was a ladies' man, but I never heard anything concrete." Still, she recalled being made to feel ill at ease by a "diabolic and severe" look Strauss-Kahn gave female students sitting in the front row. "It wasn't at all pleasant, and not like a professor," she said. And a former IMF official told Reuters that when Strauss-Kahn arrived at the IMF, "women were deliberately careful not to be alone around him". There was an understanding in the IMF press department never to leave a female reporter alone with DSK, just in case something inappropriate happened.
Gilles Savary, a councillor from Strauss-Kahn's own party, said of the man who was, until last week, an almost certain candidate for the presidency of France: "DSK often turned up at Socialist gatherings with a woman on his arm who was not his wife, for example at the La Rochelle summer meeting of the Socialist Party. I saw him myself." But Savary says there was never any suggestion of crime or violence with Strauss-Kahn's relationships. "I think that it's impossible that Strauss-Kahn could have gone that way, precisely because he had little problem [finding takers]."
The one relief for the former IMF chief and his legal team came from France, where the lawyer for a French writer who alleged Strauss-Kahn had sexually assaulted her eight years ago has said she won't file a criminal complaint against him, for now. David Koubbi, who represents Tristane Banon, 31, said: "Our decision has been reserved for later for a simple reason: neither Tristane Banon nor I want to be manipulated by the American justice system, or help out in any way so that these two cases might be linked."
Mr Koubbi made headlines on Monday by saying on French radio that he and Banon were "seriously considering" a criminal complaint following news that Strauss-Kahn had been arrested. On French TV in 2007, Banon said that during an interview with him years earlier she had wrestled with Strauss-Kahn after he tried to forcibly strip her, and "it ended badly" (his name was bleeped out during transmission). She was the one who accused him of being like a "rutting chimpanzee". Banon didn't file suit at the time because she felt "pressures" and her own mother – a regional official from Strauss-Kahn's Socialist Party – had dissuaded her. There will be some in France who think the decision to not pursue a criminal complaint now is also the result of pressure.
Meanwhile, the alleged victim in New York is herself the subject of much speculation, mostly online. She is known to be a 32-year-old West African-born single mother with a daughter of 15, who has been in the US for a number of years. Just how many differs according to the accounts, as does her status (immigrant or asylum seeker), marital past (widow or divorcee), and even her health. Some reports say she has lived in apartments in buildings reserved for those who are HIV-positive, something strenuously denied. More disturbingly, her identity is widely asserted online, often accompanied by photographs purporting to be of her.
She is staying with her daughter at a secret location and, says her lawyer, vigorously contests Strauss-Kahn's claims that what passed between them in Suite 2806 at the Sofitel was in any way consensual. She is adamant that he emerged naked from the bathroom, chased her down, assaulted her and forced her to perform oral sex. The prosecutor, John McConnell, says the maid tells "a compelling and unwavering story".
Such was the seriousness of the charges, and the fact Strauss-Kahn had been apprehended sitting on a plane just about to taxi on to a runway, that it took all week for his lawyers to successfully argue that he could be granted bail. He spent most of the time in a cell on Rikers Island, and when he was released, it was into a farcical toing and froing over his and his wife's first choice accommodation. The plan was for Strauss-Kahn to move into a luxury residential hotel under armed guard on Manhattan's well-to-do Upper East Side. Even though the address was never officially released, police and media converged on the building, the Bristol Plaza at 210 East 65th Street, and that, in effect, scuppered any chance of him enjoying the rooftop health club, Italian marble bathrooms, flat-screen televisions, king-size beds with goose-down pillows, which are a feature of the place.
His lawyer, William Taylor, said: "There was an effort by the media to invade the building. That is why the tenants in the building will not accept his living there." While Strauss-Kahn's family had a lease and could have stayed, he decided to leave "out of respect for the residents". Instead, he moved to comparatively ordinary rooms in a 21-storey granite skyscraper, the Empire Building at 71 Broadway in Lower Manhattan.
Here, kept confined by the high security and risk of imperilling the $1m in bail and a $5m insurance bond posted by his wife, Anne Sinclair, he will stay until more permanent accommodation can be found.
His next court appearance, at which he will formally answer the charges against him, is set to be on 6 June.Reuse content