NEW YORK – The leader of the International Monetary Fund and a possible candidate for president of France was pulled from an airplane moments before he was to fly to Paris and was being questioned Saturday by police in connection with the sexual assault of a hotel maid, police said.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn was taken off the Air France flight at John F. Kennedy International Airport by officers from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and turned over to police Saturday afternoon, said Paul J. Browne, New York Police Department spokesman.
He was being questioned by the NYPD special victims office. Strauss-Kahn had retained an attorney and was not making statements to police, Browne said. “He’s being arrested for a criminal sex act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment,” Browne said.
The 32-year-old woman told authorities that she entered Strauss-Kahn’s suite at the luxury Sofitel hotel not far from Manhattan’s Times Square at about 1 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday and he attacked her, Browne said. She said she had been told to clean the spacious $3,000-a-night suite, which she had been told was empty.
According to an account the woman provided to police, Strauss-Kahn emerged from the bathroom naked, chased her down a hallway and pulled her into a bedroom, where he began to sexually assault her. She said she fought him off, then he dragged her into the bathroom, where he forced her to perform oral sex 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 New York City police detectives arrived moments later, Strauss-Kahn had already left the hotel, leaving behind his cellphone, Browne said. “It looked like he got out of there in a hurry,” Browne said.
The NYPD discovered that he was at the airport and contacted the Port Authority, who plucked Kahn from first class on the Air France flight that was just about to leave the gate.
The maid was taken by police to an area hospital. John Sheehan, a spokesman for the hotel, said its staff was cooperating with the authorities in the investigation.
William Murray, a spokesman for the IMF in Washington, said the IMF had no immediate comment. Strauss-Kahn’s offices in Paris couldn’t be reached when the news broke overnight in France, nor could French Socialist Party officials.
Strauss-Kahn took over as head of the IMF in November 2007. The 187-nation lending agency is headquartered in Washington and provides help in the form of emergency loans for countries facing severe financial problems.
Strauss-Kahn won praise for his leadership at the IMF during the financial crisis of 2008 and the severe global recession that followed.
In October 2008, Strauss-Kahn issued an apology to the IMF staff after accusations that he had a sexual relationship with an IMF subordinate.
The IMF board found his actions “regrettable” and said they “reflected a serious error of judgment.” The board found that the relationship was consensual.
The IMF employee left the fund and took a job with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Before taking the top post at the IMF, Strauss-Kahn had been viewed as a leading contender to run on the Socialist Party’s ticket to challenge the re-election of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Strauss-Kahn sought the Socialist Party’s endorsement in the last elections, in 2007, but came in second in a primary to Segolene Royal.
Strauss-Kahn was meant to be meeting in Berlin today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel about aid to debt-laden Greece, and then join EU finance ministers in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday. The IMF is responsible for one-third of Greece’s existing loan package, and his expected presence at the meetings underlined the gravity of the Greek crisis.
The New York accusations come amid French media reports about Strauss-Kahn’s lifestyle, including luxury cars and suits, that some have dubbed a smear campaign.
A former economics professor, Strauss-Kahn joined the Socialist Party in 1976 and was elected to parliament in 1986.
His first government post was industry minister under former President Francois Mitterrand.
Strauss-Kahn is a married father of four. His third wife, Anne Sinclair, is a New York-born journalist who hosted a popular weekly news broadcast in France in the 1980s.