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International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn faces sex assault charges. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)
International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn faces sex assault charges. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

With history of sexual slip-ups, Strauss-Kahn arrest raises questions Add to ...

An author goes on a TV talk show and describes the famous man who, "like a chimp in heat," tried to assault her. The show's host isn't surprised.

A female politician tells a newspaper that she makes sure she's never alone with that famous man. A humorist jokes about the man's sexual appetite, calling him "the beast."

A book talks about the man visiting a swingers club. "We have photos! They exist," an aide to French President Nicolas Sarkozy brags.

Over the years, as the French economist and politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn burnished his reputation and became head of the International Monetary Fund and a leading presidential contender in France, the warning signs had been building up that his sexual appetites could get him in trouble.

Now, as he waits in a cell at New York's Rikers Island jail on sex assault charges, his trial will raise hard questions in France and at the IMF about why those red flags didn't prevent him from getting elevated to positions of power.

Already, prosecutors in New York have mentioned Mr. Strauss-Kahn's past indiscretions.

The IMF's board of directors faces renewed scrutiny for clearing him in 2008 when it deemed that his affair with a subordinate was consensual and non-abusive, despite a letter the woman wrote complaining that she felt pressured into accepting her boss's advances.

There is growing pressure on Mr. Strauss-Kahn to quit to avoid long-term damage to the global lender, with two European finance ministers questioning the viability of his continued leadership. In Brussels, Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter called on Mr. Strauss-Kahn to resign so he wouldn't damage the fund. Her Spanish counterpart, Elena Salgado, spoke of solidarity with the woman Mr. Strauss-Kahn is accused of assaulting. And countries further afield began pressing that any discussions over his successor not be restricted to Europe.

In France, the chattering classes argued over the country's long tradition of keeping a politician's private life out of the spotlight.

The country's more gentle treatment of grandees in legal troubles could still be seen in the fact that its media were banned by law from showing photos of the former Socialist finance minister in handcuffs.

Still, there was unease about Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who is accused of attempted rape on a hotel maid. As allies, such as the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, rallied to his defence, they were accused of confusing womanizing and sexual coercion.

Less than three weeks before his arrest, Mr. Strauss-Kahn lunched with journalists of the French newspaper Libération and candidly told them that he once confronted Mr. Sarkozy in the bathroom at an international summit and warned his rival to stop spreading rumours about him.

"Yes I like women. … So what?" he said. "They've been talking for years that there are photos of giant orgies. I've never seen anything come out. … Let them show it."

Until now, Mr. Strauss-Kahn's Teflon had been unscratched. It was seen as a sign of wit and cheekiness that, speaking about the financial situation in South Korea, he could slip a spoonerism about priests and penises into his remarks.

In 2006, a book about French politicians' sexual foibles, Sexus politicus, linked Mr. Strauss-Kahn to the Paris swingers club Les chandelles. Another book quoted Sarkozy aide Frédéric Lefebvre saying that "DSK wouldn't last a week" into a presidential campaign because "we have photos."

On television, the author Tristane Banon appeared on a 2007 talk show with famous host Thierry Ardisson and seven other guests, where she recounted how, after asking Mr. Strauss-Kahn for an interview, he invited her to an empty apartment, grabbed her and tried to remove her clothes while she fought back and kicked him.

"It's true. He's obsessed with chicks," Mr. Ardisson said at the time.

"At the National Assembly, no girl wants to work in his office. He's the only one who has a secretary who's in her 60s and almost obese," Ms. Banon said.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn's name, however, was beeped out of the segment.

In another TV interview, Ms. Banon didn't name him but said her aggressor was "someone who is still involved in politics. He was a finance minister, very well established."

After Mr. Strauss-Kahn was elected managing director of the IMF, he was accused in 2008 of abusing his position by having an affair with a subordinate, the Hungarian economist Piroska Nagy.

He was cleared but after the scandal became public, Aurélie Filippetti, a Socialist lawmaker, told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps that she had been the target of a "very heavy-handed, very emphatic seduction attempt" from Mr. Strauss-Kahn. "I now make sure I am never alone with him in a closed room."

The paper also quoted a Parisian lawyer who said one of his clients met Mr. Strauss-Kahn for what she thought was a job interview but "ran away before things got out of hand."

Then the magazine L'Express revealed in 2009 that the IMF board had cleared Mr. Strauss-Kahn despite Ms. Nagy writing to the IMF-mandated investigators to complain that she had been pressured into the affair and considered her boss unfit to lead any organization with women.

Around the same time, the humorist Stéphane Guillon created an uproar on France Inter radio when, ahead of a visit by Mr. Strauss-Kahn, he quipped on air that he didn't want to "wake up the beast" so the station's female staff should cover up and avoid dark closets.

Now, since Mr. Strauss-Kahn was arrested four days ago, it has been left to the French media to debate whether they had been too complacent when they knew about those past incidents.

In an opinion piece in Le Monde, one of the co-authors of Sexus politicus, Christophe Deloire, noted that French political journalism relies more on commentators than investigators.

"Do we have to leave the monopoly of revelations to humorists?" he wrote, alluding to Mr. Guillon.

Ms. Banon's story didn't escape the attention of American prosecutors, however.

At Mr. Strauss-Kahn's bail hearing Monday, assistant district-attorney Artie McConnell told the court that the IMF boss had previously been accused in a similar episode outside the United States.

Bail was denied and Mr. Strauss-Kahn remanded back to his cell.

With a report from Associated Press

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