IMF chief, denied bail, prompts shock in France


Dominique Strauss-Kahn spent a third night in a New York jail, prompting expressions of shock among some in France that the IMF chief had been denied bail on attempted rape charges that may scupper his French presidential hopes. His allies in the Socialist party, some jockeying for position ahead of a primary contest which had been tipped to hand the candidacy to Strauss-Kahn, met for crisis talks on Tuesday but said they would not change the selection timetable.
French politicians and commentators reacted with surprise and anger at the New York judge’s decision to remand Strauss-Kahn, once the biggest threat to conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy in an election due next April. His parading in handcuffs before the world’s media, bedraggled and unshaven, appeared particularly stark. “He is a brave man on whom a contemptuous fate has been inflicted,” former Socialist culture minister Jack Lang told Europe 1 radio, complaining of a lynching.
“It is not unthinkable that certain judicial officials, the prosecutor in particular or the judge, is driven by a desire to take down a Frenchman, a Frenchman who is moreover well known.” Strauss-Kahn denies the charge that he sexually assaulted a maid in a Manhattan hotel on Saturday and says he has an alibi. He is next due to appear in court on May 20.
Strauss-Kahn’s arrest has blown open the race for the Elysee Palace, enhancing Sarkozy’s chances of re-election, and thrown the Fund into turmoil even as it plays a key role in helping euro zone states like Greece and Portugal tackle debt woes. Speculation has begun on who might lead the global lender, with interest focusing particularly on whether western Europe, which has had an effective lock on the job since its creation after World War Two, can hang on to the position in the face of growing challenges from the rising economic powers of Asia.
China’s foreign ministry weighed in on Tuesday, declining to comment on Strauss-Kahn but saying the selection process for IMF leaders should be based on “fairness, transparency and merit”. Although Strauss-Kahn had been expected to resign soon in order to run for office in France, European efforts to hang on to the influential post show little sign yet of consensus.
One possible choice, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, would face likely opposition from his own successor in government and many doubt whether another well qualified choice, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, could overcome reluctance to see another choice from Paris in the job.
A Berlin newspaper floated the names of Josef Ackermann, chief executive of Germany’s private Deutsche Bank, and of Thomas Mirow, a German politician who heads the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a public body.