French socialist’s career in question following dramatic arrest at JFK airport and furore over lifestyle
Dominique Strauss-Kahn was taken off an Air France flight at JFK airport, having been accused of a sex attack on a hotel maid. Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund and the man French Socialists hope will be the next occupant of the Elysée Palace, was arrested at JFK airport in New York on Saturday afternoon accused of a sex attack on a Times Square hotel maid earlier in the day.
He was taken off an Air France flight by officers from the Port Authority of New York and turned over to Manhattan police, according to a spokesman from the agency. Plainclothes officers boarded the flight at 4.45pm, moments before take-off, and took the 62-year-old out of the first-class cabin and into custody. He had been due to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday.
“It was 10 minutes before its scheduled departure,” said John Kelly, a Port Authority spokesman.
Port Authority officers were acting on information from the New York Police Department, whose detectives had been investigating a brutal alleged attack on a woman employee at the Sofitel New York on West 44th Street in the heart of the city’s theatre district.
The 32-year-old woman told police that she entered Strauss-Kahn’s room at about 1pm on Saturday and he emerged from the bedroom naked, threw her down and tried to sexually assault her, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. She broke free and escaped the room and told hotel staff what had happened who called the police.
When New York City police detectives arrived moments later, Strauss-Kahn had already left the hotel, leaving behind his mobile phone and other personal items. “It looked like he got out of there in a hurry,” Browne added.
Strauss-Khan was being questioned on Saturday night by the NYPD special victims office. No charges have yet been filed.
Rumours of dangerous liaisons and sexual conquests have had little effect on Strauss-Kahn’s chances of occupying the highest office in France, but last night’s arrest may alter his future ambitions. Strauss-Kahn was expected to throw his hat into the election ring within weeks. He has been fighting off a very French furore over assertions his tastes are too luxurious to lay claim to the political left.
Strauss-Kahn is suing a French newspaper that claimed staples of his lifestyle included luxury homes and sought-after works of art. In its report, France Soir also said he had several handmade suits made by Barack Obama’s tailor, a claim hotly denied. The tailor, a 75-year-old Frenchman from Marseille, sells suits for between £4,300 and £21,000.
Questions over Strauss-Kahn’s wealth were raised two weeks ago after he was pictured climbing into a friend’s £87,000 Porsche Panamera S outside his £3.5m Paris home alongside his heiress wife.
For months opinion polls have suggested that Strauss-Kahn is the only potential opposition candidate who might unseat Sarkozy in next year’s election, but after the France Soir reports François Hollande, the former Socialist party leader who is also seeking the party’s nomination as presidential candidate, leapt to within a few points of him. Hollande’s ex-wife, Ségolène Royal, who lost to Sarkozy in 2007, is another Socialist contender to be leader, along with two other hopefuls.
In its report on Thursday, the newspaper said that since Strauss-Kahn and his wealthy wife, Anne Sinclair, had arrived in the US capital for his IMF job in 2007 they had lived a life of luxury. The couple was said to have bought a £2.5m home in the upmarket Washington district of Georgetown. Other reports revealed that Strauss-Kahn, who allegedly earns £22,000 net a month, also has a flat in the 16th arrondissement of Paris which was bought for £2.2m in 1990, another flat on the expensive Place des Vosges in the 4th arrondissement bought in 2007 for £3.4m, and a riad in Marrakech.
That the Strauss-Kahns are wealthy has never been a secret. Sinclair is the granddaughter of Paul Rosenberg, a celebrated dealer of modern art, and has inherited part of his collection, which is said to include at least one Picasso. In many countries, such wealth would not necessarily be viewed as an impediment to a leftwing politician’s career. In France, however, the flashiness has appalled some observers.
“Can one be leftwing and very rich?” asked Jean-Jacques Bourdin, a commentator on French radio station RMC. “If Sarkozy represented for many the ‘bling-bling’ right then Dominique Strauss-Kahn is, whether he likes it or not, a representative of the left ‘vroom vroom’.
“He finds himself today in a very worrying situation for a future socialist presidential candidate. Because in the collective subconscious to be leftwing and to have lots of money… doesn’t always go together,” said Bourdin.
However, supporters were quick to jump to Strauss-Kahn’s defence. Michèle Sabban, vice-president of the Île-de-France socialists, told journalists: “Dominique is staying true to himself. He admits his relationship with money and that’s good.” Another supporter, local councillor Hussein Mokhtari, added: “So he has to eat sandwiches and drive a 2CV when he is head of the IMF?”
Even political enemies such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the Left party and a rival presidential candidate, dismissed criticism of his wealth.
“Being leftwing is a conviction, a commitment; never would a man of the left say to another ‘profit and shut up …’ I think someone who is rich can also be of the left depending on how his wealth was gained.”
Paul Gallagher and Kim Willsher in Paris
Sunday 15 May 2011 01.24 BST
Source: The Guardian