Strauss-Kahn, IMF head charged in sex assault, denied bail

WASHINGTON — Lurid allegations of sexual assault against the French head of the International Monetary Fund haven’t just astonished the global financial community, but also those in France who once viewed Dominique Strauss-Kahn as presidential material — despite rumours of extramarital affairs and sexual improprieties.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

WASHINGTON — Lurid allegations of sexual assault against the French head of the International Monetary Fund haven’t just astonished the global financial community, but also those in France who once viewed Dominique Strauss-Kahn as presidential material — despite rumours of extramarital affairs and sexual improprieties.

A New York judge ordered Strauss-Kahn to be held without bail following accusations that he sexually assaulted a maid at a posh Manhattan hotel on the weekend. Judge Melissa C. Jackson agreed with prosecutors that the 62-year-old Strauss-Kahn was a flight risk.

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.

Prosecutors told the court that there are fresh allegations that Strauss-Kahn has engaged in at least one similar attack in the past.

Strauss-Kahn denies the charges, his lawyer said Monday.

“This battle has just begun … Mr. Strauss-Kahn is innocent of these charges,” defence attorney Benjamin Brafman told reporters outside the courthouse.

“He intends to vigorously defend these charges and denies any wrongdoing.”

Rumours of his extra-marital sexual appetites have hounded Strauss-Kahn for years, but apparently without any detriment to his career. The French weekly newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche once dubbed him “le grand seducteur” — the Great Seducer — in reference to the rumours.

A book released last May, said to be written by a one-time female aide of Strauss-Kahn’s, provided scandalous details.

The book, entitled “Secrets of a Presidential Contender,” claimed DSK, as he’s known in France, had a string of extra-marital affairs and was once photographed coming out of a wife-swapping club.

“He is always on the hunt for new women,” wrote the author, whose pen name was “Cassandre.”

“He is a pleasure seeker. Like all great political animals, he has trouble controlling himself. His eye for women is sharp as a laser. When he enters a cafe, an office or any public place, the ritual is the same …. He is direct and makes no concessions.”

Before his arrest, polls had suggested Strauss-Kahn could win the Socialist party’s presidential primaries and narrowly beat President Nicolas Sarkozy in a run-off. Even Sarkozy warned his would-be foe to behave himself when he got the IMF job, the book said.

“Over there they don’t joke about this sort of thing. Your life will be passed under a magnifying glass. Avoid taking the lift alone with interns …. France cannot permit a scandal,” the president was quoted as warning Strauss-Kahn.

Indeed, Americans do not share what often appears to be the cavalier attitude of the French and other Europeans when it comes to the sex lives of their elected officials.

It was an open secret, for example, that French president Francois Mitterand had a mistress throughout his years in power; his out-of-wedlock daughter even attended his funeral in 1996. Similar scandals, however, have sunk some American politicians.

Bill Clinton was impeached in late 1998 by the Republican House of Representatives for his consensual affair with a White House intern, although the Senate soon acquitted him.

John Edwards, a Democratic presidential hopeful, has seen his career go up in flames amid revelations that he fathered a baby girl with his extramarital girlfriend, Rielle Hunter, as his wife battled cancer. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was also forced to resign when it was revealed he hired high-priced hookers.

The Washington-based Strauss-Kahn faced some American-style scrutiny in 2008, when the IMF investigated him due to a brief, consensual affair with a subordinate at the organization. The married Strauss-Kahn was cleared but apologized publicly for “a serious error of judgment” for his relationship with the Hungarian economist.

Even though Europeans have long scoffed at Americans’ puritanical attitudes towards sexual improprieties, it appears Europe might be starting to move towards North American standards when it comes to politicians behaving badly.

After years of rumours about his sexual antics, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 74, is currently facing allegations that he had sex with an underage prostitute and then used his office to cover up the crime. He’s also facing corruption and tax fraud charges.

Italian women have apparently had enough. Arcidonna, an Italian women’s group, filed a lawsuit against the prime minister last month, alleging 25 years of abuse against Italian women. The group called the child prostitution charges “the final straw.”

Others have railed against Italian television and its preponderance of shows that involve women stripping down to the delight of their male on-air colleagues.

“Women on television are treated like pieces of prosciutto,” author and documentarian Lorello Zanardo said recently.

And more trouble looms ahead for Strauss-Kahn — this time in France, not the United States. French writer Tristane Banon has alleged for a second time that Strauss-Kahn violently attacked her nine years ago.

Describing him four years ago as a “rutting chimpanzee,” Banon said in an interview that she considered filing charges of attempted rape against Strauss-Kahn at the time but decided against it for the sake of her career.

Her lawyer says she’s reconsidered in light of the U.S. maid’s allegations.

“We’re planning to make a complaint. I am working with her,” David Koubbi said Monday.

Strauss-Kahn denied her original allegations through a spokesman, accusing Banon of making up the story in an effort to generate headlines.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper just a few weeks ago, Strauss-Kahn admitted he has a fondness for the opposite sex, but denied allegations there are decades-old photos of him cavorting at a fancy swingers’ club.

“Yes I like women, so what?” Strauss-Kahn told the newspaper. “For years, there’s been talk of photos of a giant orgy, but I’ve never seen them come out.”

He went on to suggest that he would be vulnerable to a smear campaign by his political opponents, such as “a woman raped in a parking lot who is promised half a million euros to make up her story.”

— With files from The Associated Press

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