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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."

He was correct on two out of the three. While anti-Semitism has not emerged as a factor in his bid to become the Socialist Party candidate for president in next month's primaries, he was already facing harsh media criticism for his lavish sports cars, $7,000 (U.S.) suits and first-class travel before Saturday's sex-crime charges.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn may also face further scrutiny related to his alleged assault on a young novelist named Tristane Banon. Ms. Banon said in a television interview in 2007 that she had been sexually attacked during an interview she conducted five years earlier with Mr. Strauss-Kahn, whose name was beeped out in the broadcast. "He was acting like a rutting chimpanzee," she said then.

On Monday, Ms. Banon said that she would be pressing a criminal complaint against the IMF chief. She offered a terse announcement on her Twitter account: "I will speak shortly to the media. For now, a complaint has been lodged at the police headquarters of the 11th [arrondissement of Paris]"

Often referred to in France simply by his initials - DSK - Mr. Strauss-Kahn is the son of a tax adviser and journalist. Born in the posh Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, he spent some of his childhood in Morocco and Monaco before returning to France. A gifted student and committed leftist, Mr. Strauss-Kahn earned degrees in business, law and political science and completed a doctorate in economics.

Charming and ambitious, he was elected to France's parliament in 1986 as a member of the Socialist Party, the start of what would be a long career in politics. During the 1990s, he served as both trade minister and finance minister before becoming embroiled in a corruption case, which was later dropped. In 1991, he married for the third time, to Anne Sinclair, possibly France's most famous television journalist.

The stunning nature of the accusations against Mr. Strauss-Kahn has set off a swirl of conspiracy theories in Paris. Mr. Strauss-Kahn himself claimed the party of President Nicolas Sarkozy prepared a smear campaign against him and said he had confronted the president at a urinal in Pittsburgh and told him to stop it.

Driving one of the conspiracy theories is the fact that the first person to reveal that Mr. Strauss-Kahn had been arrested was a young activist with Mr. Sarkozy's UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) party.

At 4:59 p.m. Saturday in New York, just 20 minutes after the IMF chief was removed from an Air France flight, a self-described UMP "militant" named Jonathan Pinet, used his Twitter account to announce the arrest.

Mr. Pinet, who grew up in Montreal but now studies in Paris, denied participating in a smear campaign. He later said that a French-Canadian friend of his who works for the Sofitel hotel in New York had informed him of Mr. Strauss-Kahn's arrest.

Pierre-Henri Dumont, a friend of Mr. Pinet's, said the conspiracy claims are outlandish. "Do you think a 21-year-old kid has the power to topple the head of the IMF?" he asked.

In Washington, the IMF's executive board met on Monday but gave no hint of a decision regarding Mr. Strauss-Kahn's future with the organization. In 2008, the board employed a law firm to investigate a relationship Mr. Strauss-Kahn had conducted with a female economist at the fund. The affair was determined to be consensual, and the executive board closed the book on the matter with a reprimand, calling the incident "regrettable" and an example of a "serious lack of judgment."

For his part, Mr. Strauss-Kahn pledged to do better in the future. "The personal behaviour of the managing director sets an important tone for the institution," he said in 2008. "I am committed, going forward, to uphold the high standards that are expected of this position."

The incident showed how difficult it can be for officials at the IMF to hold leaders responsible for their actions. "The bottom line is these managing directors wield enormous authority and there is no effective check on them," said Thomas Bernes, the executive director of the Waterloo, Ont.-based Centre for International Governance Innovation and a former Canadian executive director at the IMF.

Associates of Mr. Strauss-Kahn still were struggling to absorb the thunderbolt of seeing one of the central figures in the fight against the global recession being placed in the back of a police car in handcuffs.

"He is one of the most impressive public servants I have ever seen," said Robert Shapiro, chairman of Sonecon, LLC, an economics consultancy based in Washington, and a member of an external committee that Mr. Strauss-Kahn established to advise him on issues in the Western Hemisphere. "To say that I was shocked by [his arrest]understates my response."

With reports from Tu Thanh Ha and Ingrid Peritz in Montreal