Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was to learn Tuesday in New York whether his claim to diplomatic immunity will allow him to escape a civil suit over alleged sexual assault.

The suit was lodged against Strauss-Kahn by Manhattan hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo, who alleges the French politician forced her into oral sex when she went to clean his room last year.

Criminal charges were tossed out when prosecutors decided that Diallo would not make a credible witness. However, she filed a civil suit seeking unspecified damages over what she still says was a brutal assault.

Strauss-Kahn's lawyers argued in court last month that his position at the time of the incident as head of the International Monetary Fund protected him from legal action. New York state Judge Douglas McKeon was expected to rule on whether the suit can go ahead at about 10:00 am (1400 GMT).

Strauss-Kahn, who says there was a consensual sexual encounter with Diallo in his luxury hotel suite, also faces a separate, prostitution-related criminal probe in France.

The incident in New York sparked the collapse of Strauss-Kahn's career. He resigned as head of the IMF and saw his dreams of winning the French presidency this year shredded.

Opinion polls at the time of his disgrace had pointed to Strauss-Kahn being able to beat incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is now struggling to avoid defeat against Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande in a May 6 runoff.

Strauss-Kahn, or DSK as he's popularly known in France, injected himself into the feverish presidential contest over the weekend by claiming that his downfall had been orchestrated to scupper his candidacy.

Strauss-Kahn said that although he did not believe the incident was a setup, the subsequent escalation of the event into a criminal investigation was "shaped by those with a political agenda."

"Perhaps I was politically naive, but I simply did not believe that they would go that far -- I didn't think they could find anything that could stop me," he told The Guardian newspaper.

The Guardian said it was clear that "they" refers to people working for Sarkozy and his center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party.

Sarkozy responded by saying Strauss-Kahn should "explain himself to the law and spare the French his remarks."

[Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn AFP Photo/Sergei Supinsky]