Strauss-Kahn sent to Rikers Island

 

Managing director of the International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss-Kahn was transferred to New York's notorious Rikers Island jail last night in a rapid and dramatic fall from grace after he was charged with trying to rape a hotel maid.

Separated from other inmates for his own safety, Mr Strauss-Kahn was put in a bare 3.5 x 4 metre cell and given basic bedding, a drinking cup, soap, shampoo and toothpaste.

Just three nights earlier, he had slept in a luxurious $3,000-a-day hotel suite complete with conference room, living room, marble bathroom and a bedroom with a king-sized bed and feather and down duvet. It was in that same suite in the Sofitel hotel near Times Square that Mr Strauss-Kahn allegedly attacked an African maid on Saturday afternoon.

His lawyers say he is innocent but he could still lose his job as head of the IMF and his hopes of running in France's presidential election next April are in ruins.

Prosecutors are investigating a complaint from a second woman outside the US. She is Tristane Banon (31), a French novelist who says she was assaulted by him when she went to interview him in an empty apartment nine years ago.

Mr Strauss-Kahn (62) was transferred to Rikers Island after a New York judge earlier denied his request for bail. Wary of possible attacks on him, officials have put him in the smallest of the 10 jails in the vast Rikers complex and separated him from the other inmates.

"This is not about isolating the inmate from any human contact," said a spokesman for New York's Department of Correction. "This is about preventing the inmate from being victimised or harmed in some way as a result of his high profile."

He said Mr Strauss-Kahn will be kept from other inmates even when allowed out of his cell to stretch his legs, exercise or watch television.

The IMF chief looked drained and tense in his first court appearance earlier yesterday as prosecutors detailed his alleged attack against the maid, a 32-year-old mother of two from Guinea.

"He sexually assaulted her and attempted to forcibly rape her. When he was unsuccessful, he forced her to perform oral sex on him," assistant district attorney John McConnell told the court.

Mr Strauss-Kahn faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Judge Melissa Jackson was persuaded by prosecutors that Mr Strauss-Kahn, might try to flee to France, so she ordered him put behind bars and set a new hearing for Friday. Police had pulled Mr Strauss-Kahn off an Air France jet on Saturday just minutes before it was to leave for Paris.

His lawyers are expected to appeal the judge's bail decision and it could be a key issue in the case. Bail would give Mr Strauss-Kahn much better access to his attorneys and allow him to live in New York with his wife, prominent French television personality Anne Sinclair, while awaiting trial.

Without it, he could face a long wait in jail, an ordeal that experts say could push him toward a plea bargain deal.

Mr Strauss-Kahn's high-profile lawyer Ben Brafman was defiant yesterday, saying that forensic evidence taken by police from Mr Strauss-Kahn over the weekend "will not be consistent with a forcible encounter".

"We believe we will prove ... that Mr. Straus-Kahn is innocent of these charges," Mr Brafman told reporters. "I think it's important that you all understand that this battle has just begun."

While at Rikers, Mr Strauss-Kahn will likely be allowed three visitors a week aside from his lawyer, and will be given one hour a day for exercise.

The circumstances of the arrest were "troubling if not damning," but it is too soon to call for him to step down from his post, US Senate foreign relations committee chairman John Kerry said today.

"We have in America the presumption of innocence, but obviously the circumstances are .... troubling if not damning," Mr Kerry said.

"If the evidence is what it appears to be, I think it would be very difficult for him to manage" as head of the IMF, Kerry said.

The charismatic, multilingual and witty Mr Strauss-Kahn won wide praise for his leadership of the IMF during the 2007-2009 global financial meltdown as well as the euro zone's current debt crisis, and his arrest has thrown the Fund into turmoil.

The IMF board has so far held off on deciding whether or not to remove him from his job. If he is forced out, there could be a fierce battle over who would succeed him, weakening the IMF's efforts to deal with the euro zone crisis.

The board also faces embarrassing questions about why it let Mr Strauss-Kahn off with just a reprimand in 2008 after he was found to be having an extra-marital affair with a subordinate. Persistent rumours inside the IMF that he often made unwanted sexual advances to women have long dogged his tenure there.

France's election campaign has also been turned upside down since Mr Strauss-Kahn's arrest. He had been widely tipped to win the Socialist Party's nomination and early opinion polls showed him ahead of president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Unless the criminal case against him quickly collapses and he is proven innocent, Mr Strauss-Kahn has no hope of running for president. His rapid plunge appears to immediately benefit the conservative Mr Sarkozy and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, while the Socialist Party is in disarray.

Its leaders were to meet for crisis talks today to map out a new plan of attack for the election.