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Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the IMF, right, with his lawyer Benjamin Brafman, was refused bail by a New York court. Andrew Gombert / Bloomberg News
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the IMF, right, with his lawyer Benjamin Brafman, was refused bail by a New York court. Andrew Gombert / Bloomberg News

Spectacular fall from grace for Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF leader, should have been attending a meeting of finance ministers in Brussels this week. Instead, he languishes in New York's notorious Rikers Island prison accused of attempting to rape a hotel chambermaid.

There is a world of difference between a suite in the Sofitel Hotel in Manhattan and a cell in Rikers Island prison on the East River in The Bronx.

There's no lift, no television, no room service - and certainly no chambermaids.

Little wonder that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the IMF, looked drawn and rather dishevelled after spending a night in the jail. He faces a longer stay unless his lawyers can arrange bail, something that was turned down by a judge on Monday in New York.

Even if the charismatic Frenchman is able to convince a jury of his innocence of the charges of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape a chambermaid, his political ambitions appear to be in tatters.

Having been the front-runner in all the French presidential polls for the past six months, his race now looks run.

"Yesterday, this man was a leader, he had the bearing of a president," said Michel Taubmann, the author of a book on Mr Strauss-Kahn. "Now? I saw images of him in court; destroyed face, amid delinquents. Most likely his career is over."

Mr Strauss-Kahn will be pleading not guilty, according to his lawyer Benjamin Brafman. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of the charges.

"One thing is certain: Dominique Strauss-Kahn will not be the next [French] president," wrote Paul-Henri du Limbert in Le Figaro newspaper, based in Paris.

"In the space of 15 days, the new idol of the French left has exploded. Such a swift disintegration has rarely been seen."

As recently as April 10, a poll conducted by the Liberation newspaper, 45 per cent of the respondents said they would like to see Mr Strauss-Kahn as president, almost double the 23 per cent who picked the current French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The two-round presidential elections will be held on April 29 and May 6 next year.

With Mr Strauss-Kahn's latest troubles, his Socialist Party has supported him, with its leader Martine Aubry calling for "presumption of innocence" until the allegations are verified.

His wife Anne Sinclair, an American-born journalist and the granddaughter of Paul Rosenberg - France's biggest art dealer in the first half of the 20th century - is standing by him.

Ms Sinclair, who inherited paintings by Picasso, Matisse and Degas, says she believes he is innocent. Others expressed their horror at the television images.

"To see Dominique Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs on television this morning has deeply saddened me," Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister and head of the finance ministers Eurogroup, said in Brussels. "It was deeply sad and traumatic."

But yesterday European politicians and the business community tried to get back to the urgent matter of the euro-zone debt crisis, and in particular, Portugal and Greece's debt overhang.

Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister, is also being considered as a possible successor to Mr Strauss-Kahn at the IMF.

The job traditionally goes to a European, with an American heading to the World Bank, although there have been calls for a candidate from the developing world.

"Given the refusal to grant him bail, [Mr Strauss-Kahn] must reflect himself on the damage this could cause to the institution," said Maria Fekter, the Austrian finance minister, even though a source close to the IMF has suggested it could launch disciplinary proceedings of its own.

She was speaking at a second day of talks among European finance ministers in Brussels, a meeting Mr Strauss-Kahn had been due to attend as the EU grapples with Greek pleas for more financial help.

Spain's Elena Salgado, while acknowledging that "the decision is up to Mr Strauss-Kahn in the first place", said the "extraordinarily serious" accusations meant "my solidarity is with the woman who suffered an attack, if that's really what happened".

As for possible successors, the British prime minister David Cameron has already poured cold water on Gordon Brown's aspirations for the IMF job, while Germany's mass-market daily Bild yesterday suggested Josef Ackermann, the chief executive of Germany's largest bank, Deutsche Bank, along with Ms Lagarde.

John Lipsky, the deputy managing director, is filling in for Mr Strauss-Kahn for now, but he had announced before his boss's arrest while sitting in the first-class seat of an Air France aircraft in New York that he would leave on August 31.

The IMF may have to replace its top two officials in a very short period.

Mr Strauss-Kahn's next court appearance is set for Friday.

"He was France's most prominent person abroad, a powerful, policymaking figure," said Gerard Grunberg, a professor at the Political Sciences Institute in Paris.

"His image is now destroyed. The books, the marketing will be of no help now."

Employees at the IMF huddled around television screens hungry for news of the case.

As images of Mr Strauss-Kahn appeared, they struggled to square his dapper bearing and public charm with the man described in a New York City police charge sheet.

"He is finished. Nobody thinks he will be back. People are just shocked," said an IMF economist who did not want to be named.

* with agencies

rwright@thenational.ae

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