International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, widely expected to run for the French Presidency next year, has been arrested in New York over an alleged sex attack on a hotel maid.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, managing director of the Washington-based IMF since 2007, was taken off an Air France plane's first-class cabin at the John F Kennedy International Airport and apprehended by detectives of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The New York Police Department then took Strauss-Kahn into custody. He was "being questioned in connection with the sexual assault of a hotel chambermaid," Deputy Commissioner Paul J Browne, the department's chief spokesman, was quoted as saying by the United States media.
"He is being arrested for a criminal sex act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment," he said.
Prosecutors were soon expected to bring formal criminal charges against Strauss-Kahn, who had earlier won praise for his handling of the global financial crisis as the IMF head. The IMF chief was in the shower when the 32-year-old maid entered his room at a hotel on West 44th Street in Manhattan on Saturday.
He allegedly emerged naked from the shower, grabbed the maid and forced her to perform oral sex, the media said.
The matter is being dealt by the Special Victims Unit of the New York Police Department. This is not the first controversy for Strauss-Kahn, who was widely expected to contest in the 2012 French presidential elections as a Socialist candidate against incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.
In 2008, accusations surfaced of his sexual relationship with one of his subordinates, a Hungarian economist, in the IMF's Africa Department.
The IMF board, which investigated the case that time, ruled his actions "reflected a serious error of judgement" but that the relationship had been consensual.
Strauss-Kahn had then apologised to IMF staff and his wife, US-born French TV personality Anne Sinclair.
"While this incident constituted an error in judgement on my part, for which I take full responsibility, I firmly believe that I have not abused my position," Strauss-Kahn wrote in an email to IMF staff after the affair became public.
Sinclaire is his third wife. He has four children from two previous marriages.
Strauss-Kahn, who served as France's minister of economy and finance from 1997 to 1999, was held at about 4:40 pm local time on Saturday evening, when two detectives of the Port Authority suddenly boarded Air France Flight 23, as the plane idled at the departure gate, John P L Kelly, a spokesman for the agency, was quoted as saying by the New York Times.
"It was 10 minutes before its scheduled departure," said Kelly. "They were just about to close the doors."
He said Strauss-Kahn was traveling alone and was not handcuffed during the apprehension.
The IMF chief "complied with the detectives' directions," Kelly said.
Separately, Browne said that it was about 1 pm local time on Saturday when the maid entered Strauss-Kahn's $3,000-a- night suite, believing it was unoccupied. As she was in the foyer, "he came out of the bathroom, fully naked, and attempted to sexually assault her," Browne was quoted as saying by NYT.
"He grabs her, according to her account, and pulls her into the bedroom and onto the bed," Browne said, adding he locked the door to the suite.
"She fights him off, and he then drags her down the hallway to the bathroom, where he sexually assaults her a second time," he said.
At some point during the assault, the woman broke free and "fled, reported it to other hotel personnel, who called 911. When the police arrived, he was not there," Browne said, adding Strauss-Kahn appeared to have left in a hurry.
Investigators found his cell-phone in the room, which he had left behind, and one law enforcement official said that investigations uncovered forensic evidence that would contain DNA.
Benjamin Brafman, a lawyer, said he would be representing Strauss-Kahn with William Taylor, an advocate based in Washington.
"We have not yet been able to meet with our client and we may have more to say tomorrow," Brafman told NYT on phone.
Strauss-Kahn, who had a meeting planned with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has a special arrangement with Air France that allows him to get on any flight and sit in first class, unnamed sources were quoted as saying by the New York Post.
In France's 2007 election, Strauss-Kahn lost the Socialist Party nomination to Segolene Royal, who in turn was defeated by Sarkozy, leader of the right-wing Union for a Popular Movement.
Image: Dominique Strauss-Kahn | Photograph: Reuters