Head of IMF held in New York over ‘sex attack’ on hotel maid

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THE leader of the International Monetary Fund has been arrested over allegations regarding a sex attack involving a hotel maid.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 62, a possible candidate for president of France, was arrested on charges of a criminal sex act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment.

He was taken off a plane in New York moments before it was to depart for Paris.

Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said his client would plead not guilty at his expected arraignment.

“He denies all the charges against him,” said Mr Brafman, one of New York’s most high-profile defence attorneys whose clients have included mobsters and such celebrities as Sean “P Diddy” Combs and rapper Jay-Z. “And that’s all I can really say right now.”

Yesterday afternoon Mr Brafman and another lawyer briefly went in and out of the Harlem police precinct where Strauss-Kahn was being held.

France woke to the news with a measure of shock and surprise.

Strauss-Kahn was expected to be the main challenger in next year’s presidential elections against President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose political fortunes have been flagging of late.

The arrest could shake up the race and throw the long-divided Socialists back into disarray about whom they could present as Sarkozy’s opponent. Dominique Paille, a political rival to Strauss-Kahn on the centre right, said on BFM television: “It’s a cross that will be difficult for him to bear.”

He added: “It’s totally hallucinating. If it is true, this would be a historic moment, but in the negative sense, for French political life,” but then urged “I hope that everyone respects the presumption of innocence. I cannot manage to believe this affair.”

It wasn’t clear why Strauss-Kahn was in New York. The IMF is based in Washington, and he was due in Germany yesterday.

Strauss-Kahn checked into the luxury Sofitel hotel not far from Manhattan’s Times Square on Friday afternoon, police said.

The 32-year-old maid told authorities that he allegedly attacked her when she entered his suite, said New York Police Department spokesman Paul J. Browne. The maid said she had been told to clean the spacious suite, which she thought was empty.

According to an account which the woman provided to the police, Strauss-Kahn emerged from the bathroom naked, chased her down a hallway and pulled her into a bedroom, where he then allegedly began to sexually assault her.

She said she fought him off, then he dragged her into the bathroom, where he allegedly forced her to perform a sex act on him and tried to remove her underwear.

The woman was able to break free again and escaped the room and told hotel staff what had happened, authorities said. They called police.

When detectives arrived moments later, Strauss-Kahn had already left the hotel, leaving behind his mobile phone, Browne said. “It looked like he got out of there in a hurry,” Browne said.

The police department discovered he was at the airport and contacted officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airport.

Port Authority police officers took Strauss-Kahn from the first class section on the Air France flight that was just about to leave the gate.

Police took the maid to a hospital where was treated for minor injuries.