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. No charges have yet been filed.
The 32-year-old woman told authorities that she entered Strauss-Kahn’s room at the luxury Sofitel hotel not far from Manhattan’s Times Square at about 1 p.m. Saturday and he emerged from the bedroom naked, threw her down and attacked her, Browne said.
She told authorities that he tried to force her to perform oral sex on him. She somehow broke free 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.
More recently, he has directed the IMF’s participation in bailout efforts to keep a European debt crisis which began in Greece from destabilizing the global economy.
In October 2008, Strauss-Kahn issued an apology to the IMF staff after accusations that he had a sexual relationship with an IMF subordinate.
“While this incident constituted an error in judgment on my part, for which I take full responsibility, I firmly believe that I have not abused my position,” Strauss-Kahn wrote in an email to IMF staff.
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 a member of the French National Assembly and had also served as France’s Minister of Economy, Finance and Industry from June 1997 to November 1999.
He 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, dubbed DSK in France, was seen as the strongest possible challenger to Sarkozy in next year’s presidential elections. Strauss-Kahn has not declared his candidacy, staying vague in interviews while feeding speculation that he wants France’s top job.
He was meant to be meeting in Berlin on Sunday 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 these 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.
He sought the Socialist Party’s endorsement in the last elections, in 2007, but came in second in a primary to Segolene Royal. Royal, the first woman to get so close to France’s presidency, lost to Sarkozy in the runoff.
After Sarkozy won, the new president championed Strauss-Kahn as a candidate to run the IMF. Sarkozy’s backers touted the move as a sign of the conservative president’s campaign of openness to leftists – but political strategists saw it as a way for Sarkozy to get a potential challenger far away from the French limelight.
The global financial crisis thrust Strauss-Kahn into an unexpectedly prominent role and boosted his global standing in time to consider a 2012 French presidential bid.
He is credited with preparing France for the adoption of the euro by taming its deficit and persuading then-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to sign up to an EU pact of fiscal prudence.
A former economics professor, Strauss-Kahn joined the Socialist party in 1976 and was elected to parliament in 1986 from the Val-d’Oise district, north of Paris. He went on to become mayor of Sarcelles, a working-class immigrant suburb of Paris.
His first government post was industry minister under former President Francois Mitterrand. As finance minister, he reduced France’s debt repayments through a raft of privatizations including the sale of shares in France Telecom SA and Air France.
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.
A security guard stood watch outside the Sofitel near busy Times Square on Saturday night, keeping everyone but guests out of the building. French tourist Julian Cassanova, 25, said the accusations would likely affect Strauss-Kahn’s reputation and political aspirations in France.
“It will be difficult for him,” said Cassanova, a Cannes resident who was not staying at the hotel. “It’s not good at all.”