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IMF chief pleads not guilty, denied bail

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NEW YORK (AFP) – IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn denied the sexual assault and attempted rape of a New York hotel chambermaid on Monday but was refused bail and ordered to remain behind bars pending trial.

A haggard-looking Strauss-Kahn, 62, wearing a black raincoat and a light-blue shirt pleaded not guilty to all charges in a packed Manhattan courtroom in a scandal that has torpedoed his French presidential hopes.

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“He denies these charges. He is presumed innocent under the law,” Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer Benjamin Brafman told the judge. After the hearing, the lawyer said Strauss-Kahn was “disappointed” but the “battle has just begun.”

The maid alleged the IMF chief assaulted her on Saturday in his suite when he got out of his shower naked.

“The charges here … are severe as are potential sentences. The defendant restrained a hotel employee inside his room, he sexually assaulted her and attempted to rape her,” a prosecutors told the court.

Prosecutors said it was not the first time Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, had been involved in a similar incident and argued he was a flight risk as he had been arrested attempting to flee the country.

The defense protested, saying they had a witness who would testify that the defendant had not tried to flee his hotel and was actually rushing for a lunch appointment.

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Judge Melissa Jackson denied the defense’s offer for Strauss-Kahn to submit all his travel documents, post $1 million bail and agree to reside with his daughter in New York until the next hearing on Friday.

“When I hear your client was at JFK airport about to board a flight, that raises some concerns,” Jackson said.

In a humiliating fall from grace for one of the world’s most powerful men, Strauss-Kahn had his irises scanned along with suspected petty criminals in the Manhattan courtroom.

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The alleged victim, employed for the past three years at the luxury Sofitel hotel near Times Square, picked Strauss-Kahn out of a line-up Sunday, as police said they had won a warrant to seek DNA evidence on his clothes.

The bombshell news of the arrest has left the International Monetary Fund reeling, ahead of critical talks in Brussels on Monday on the fallout of the debt crisis sweeping the eurozone.

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A former finance minister, Strauss-Kahn had been expected to throw his hat into the ring for the 2012 French election, challenging President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The prosecution made reference to “at least one” other accusation of a sexual nature, but it was not clear if it was that of a 31-year-old French writer who said she would be making a complaint alleging Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted her in 2002.

Tristane Banon previously made the allegation against Strauss-Kahn in 2007 on television, but she had not lodged a formal complaint with authorities.

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“We’re planning to make a complaint. I am working with her,” Banon’s lawyer David Koubbi said.

The alleged victim has been described as “female, black, 32 years old,” a police spokesman told AFP, unable to confirm reports that the IMF chief forced the maid to perform oral sex on him before sexually assaulting her a second time after locking the door to the suite.

“She was in the room. She thought it was empty. That’s when he approached her from behind and touched her inappropriately. He forced her to perform a sexual act on him,” the police spokesman said.

Strauss-Kahn, so well known in France he is often referred to simply as DSK, had been topping the polls for the presidency even though he has not yet declared his candidacy.

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News of his arrest threw the Socialist party into disarray, and could prove a boost for Sarkozy, who is also facing a challenge from Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front.

The arrest triggered speculation across France that Strauss-Kahn had been set up for political motives, either because of his position as IMF chief or as a potential election candidate.

It is not the first time that Strauss-Kahn has been tainted by scandal.

In 2008, he was discovered to be having an affair with a Hungarian IMF economist, but the IMF concluded he had not exerted pressure on the woman, although it noted his inappropriate behavior.

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