NEW YORK (AFP) – IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was to face charges in a New York court on Monday of trying to rape a hotel chambermaid as lawyers back in France threatened to file another sex assault complaint.
While pundits predicted the scandal would scupper the veteran politician's chances of becoming the next French president, Strauss-Kahn's lawyer Benjamin Brafman said his client would vigorously defend himself against claims that he trapped the maid in a luxury Manhattan hotel and sexually assaulted her.
The woman, employed for the past three years at the luxury Sofitel hotel near Times Square, picked Strauss-Kahn out of a line-up on Sunday, as police said they had won a warrant to seek DNA evidence on his clothes.
"He intends to vigorously defend these charges and denies any wrongdoing," Brafman told reporters.
The bombshell news of the arrest of one of the world's most powerful men 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.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, has hired a barrage of top lawyers, as questions swirled over whether he could escape prosecution. But late Sunday, a New York police spokesman said the IMF chief did not have the right to diplomatic immunity.
Another lawyer, William Taylor, told journalists outside a Manhattan courthouse that the arraignment was postponed until Monday so Strauss-Kahn could undergo further testing by police.
"Our client willingly consented to a scientific and forensic examination," Taylor said.
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.
But his political ambitions look to be in tatters, after he was yanked off an Air France flight on Saturday just minutes before take-off.
"As we wait for truth to be sorted from falsehood, one thing is already certain: Dominique Strauss-Kahn will not be the next president of the French Republic," France's Le Figaro wrote in an editorial.
He also faces the prospect of a similar accusation back in France after lawyers for a 31-year-old French writer 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.
"We're planning to make a complaint. I am working with her," Banon's lawyer David Koubbi said.
Commentators also warned about the impact on the IMF, with London's Financial Times saying it threatened to undermine Europe's influence within the body at a time when the euro single currency is in crisis.
"It may well force the organisation's members to confront wider issues of European influence over the fund, even as it prepares to extend more rescue loans to western Europe," said the daily.
The European Commission said the case should have no impact on joint European Union and IMF bailout plans for distressed eurozone states.
"This should not have any impact whatsoever for the programmes aiding Greece, Ireland and Portugal," said Amadeu Altafaj, spokesman for EU economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn.
The woman at the centre of the claims in New York, who reports said came to the United States from Guinea, alleged Strauss-Kahn had assaulted her in his suite when he got out of his shower naked.
"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," a police spokesman told AFP.
He described the victim as "female, black, 32 years old," but could not confirm details given in the New York Times that the IMF chief pulled her into the bedroom and onto the bed and then locked the door.
She managed to fight him off, but he dragged her down the hallway to the bathroom, where he sexually assaulted her a second time, the daily alleged.
MSNBC television said that in the bathroom, Strauss-Kahn forced the maid to perform oral sex on him and tried to remove her underwear.
Strauss-Kahn's wife, former top French television journalist Anne Sinclair, said she did not believe the allegations and called for "decency and restraint".
"I do not believe for one second the accusations brought against my husband. I have no doubt his innocence will be established," she told AFP.
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.
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.