Former IMF head once seen as potential presidential candidate in France pleads not guilty to sex attack on a chambermaid in his luxury suite in a Manhattan hotel last month.
Strauss-Kahn to claim hotel incident with maid 'was consensual'
NEW YORK // The former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, denided charges yesterday relating to the sexual assault of a chambermaid in his luxury suite in a Manhattan hotel last month.
Mr Strauss-Kahn's plea of "not guilty" kick-starts what is expected to become a lengthy legal battle and paves the way for a trial that could take place as early as September.
The 62-year-old Frenchman arrived at the courthouse in lower Manhattan with his wife, Anne Sinclair, and was greeted by a barrage of boos and shouts of "Shame on you!" from a group of about 100 people wearing maid outfits outside.
The chanting members of a hotel workers union were part of the scenes outside the courthouse that saw lawyers representing both Mr Strauss-Kahn and the maid, a 32-year-old Guinean immigrant widow, address journalists.
Benjamin Brafman, representing the defendant, said Mr Strauss-Kahn's not guilty plea was a "very eloquent, powerful statement" and indicated that the basis of his legal defence would be that the hotel incident was consensual.
"In our judgement, once the evidence is reviewed, it will be clear that there was no element of forcible compulsion in this case whatsoever," Mr Brafman told journalists. "Any suggestion to the contrary is simply not credible."
Kenneth Thompson, a lawyer for the maid, described a "courageous" woman who has been traumatised by a brutal sex crime and is ready to tell jurors about her ordeal at the hands of the prominent French politician.
"The victim wants you to know that all of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's power, money and influence throughout the world will not cheat the truth about what he did to her in that hotel room from coming out," he said.
He described a "smear campaign" being mounted by Mr Strauss-Kahn's lawyers that was designed to undermine her character and testimony, saying he was working to ensure "her good name is not destroyed in order to get Dominique Strauss-Kahn off".
Mr Thompson said his client was standing up for all women who have suffered sex abuse and said a defence team claim of a "consensual" encounter was "designed to distract" attention from Mr Strauss-Kahn's wayward sexual behaviour.
Since his arrest on May 14, newspapers have described past incidents that portray Mr Strauss-Kahn as a seducer, a womaniser and even a sexual predator. Mr Thompson referred to "other women who were sexually assaulted or sexually abused by Mr Kahn".
Lawyers familiar with such cases have said that defence tactics typically involve portraying the alleged victim as a "gold-digger" who seeks to achieve cash or fame with bogus claims against a high-profile figure.
Judge Michael Obus scheduled the next hearing to take place on July 18. Mr Strauss-Kahn's lawyers could seek to negotiate a plea bargain with prosecutors, but it remains unclear whether the defendant will try to clear his name in a jury trial.
Mr Strauss-Kahn will remain under stringent but luxurious YOU HAVE 6????? $1 million bail (Dh3.67m) conditions, by which he wears an electronic tagging system and is under armed guard in a Manhattan townhouse at an estimated personal cost of $200,000 a month.
Mr Strauss-Kahn is accused of emerging naked from the bathroom of his suite in the Sofitel hotel in midtown Manhattan and committing a sex attack on the maid. He was arrested hours later aboard an Air France plane that was about to take off for Paris.
He is accused of seven charges, including attempted rape, sex abuse, unlawful imprisonment, forcible touching and a count of criminal sexual assault, which can alone carry a maximum sentence of 25 years behind bars.
The case represents a spectacular fall from grace for a man who only weeks ago was held in high esteem for his role in tackling the financial crisis of 2007-09 and was central to ongoing efforts to keep Europe's debt problems under control.
Mr Strauss-Kahn's resignation from the International Monetary Fund threw the global lender and economic policy powerhouse into disarray and spawned a debate over who would take the helm. The allegations also dashed his hopes of challenging Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's presidential election.
Many in France believe that the Socialist Party figure has been mistreated, but the case has also stirred vigorous debate in the country over long-taboo subjects such as sexual harassment and the private lives of public figures.