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Rape charges expose troubled past of 'the Great Seducer' Strauss-Kahn Add to ...

Standing before a judge at midday Monday, Dominique Strauss-Kahn looked like a man who had barely slept since his world imploded. In less than 48 hours, his surroundings shifted from the first-class cabin of a transatlantic flight to the interior of a Manhattan prison cell.

Portrayed by prosecutors as a serious flight risk, the head of the International Monetary Fund and one-time leading contender for the president of France was denied bail. Instead, he will remain in jail pending a further hearing as he battles explosive charges that he attempted to rape a hotel maid in his luxury suite on Saturday afternoon.

The judge's decision was the latest startling twist in an improbable journey that has turned Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 62, from one of the most powerful figures on the global financial scene into a source of scandal and disgrace, stripped of the protections he may have enjoyed by virtue of his position.

The charges levelled by New York prosecutors have thrown French politics into disarray ahead of next year's presidential race and unleashed turmoil at the IMF as it struggles to contain the debt crisis in Europe. The accusations also unearth a troubling history for the man sometimes dubbed "the Great Seducer" in his native France, where a complaint regarding a prior sexual assault was filed on Monday.

The dimly lit corridors of Manhattan's criminal court complex are the last place one would expect to find Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who served as a minister in two different French governments and has led the IMF since 2007. He spearheaded the organization's response to the financial crisis, carving out a key role in the rescues of debt-laden countries from Hungary to Portugal. On Saturday, he was flying back to Europe ahead of a meeting with Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Married to a well-known journalist, Mr. Strauss-Kahn has a reputation in France as a womanizer. One prior indiscretion - an affair with an IMF employee - earned him a reprimand from the fund's board. There have also been suggestions of darker behaviour, but no allegations by authorities against Mr. Strauss-Kahn had emerged before Saturday.

In New York, Mr. Strauss-Kahn is facing several counts including attempted rape, sexual abuse and engaging in criminal sexual acts. If convicted on the most serious charges, he would face up to 25 years in prison. Through his lawyer, Mr. Strauss-Kahn denied the accusations.

If Mr. Strauss-Kahn was shocked or anguished by his reversal of fortune, his face didn't show it in court on Monday. The criminal complaint filed by prosecutors details the accusations against him in blunt and unsparing language, making for uncomfortable reading. According to the complaint, Mr. Strauss-Kahn shut the door to his suite to prevent the maid from leaving. He grabbed her breasts and crotch, attempting to remove her pantyhose, and forced her to perform oral sex. The maid, reportedly a 32-year-old immigrant and mother of two from Guinea, then told hotel security and later picked Mr. Strauss-Kahn out of a police lineup.

Benjamin Brafman, a high-powered defence attorney retained by Mr. Strauss-Kahn, said his client would plead innocent. "This battle has just begun," Mr. Brafman said in a statement. "Mr. Strauss-Kahn is innocent of these charges."

Prosecutors argued that if Mr. Strauss-Kahn were allowed to post bail, he would have little incentive to remain in the United States. If he did return to France, "there are no legal mechanisms that would guarantee his return," said John McConnell, an assistant district attorney. "Millions of dollars would be a small price for him to pay for his freedom and the chance to avoid prosecution."

Mr. McConnell spoke to a courtroom filled to capacity, with many more reporters from around the globe outside the austere-looking criminal court building.

David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the court system, said the international media furor was unprecedented, even in a place that gets its share of high-profile defendants. "The celebs get the local press," he said. "This guy was going to be the next president of France."

As early as last month, Mr. Strauss-Kahn acknowledged specific risks to his political future. In a late-April off-the-record interview that emerged in France on Monday, Mr. Strauss-Kahn predicted the factors that could lead to the demise of his presidential candidacy: "The money, women and my Jewishness."

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