The allegations have seriously jeopardised Strauss-Kahn's political future in France [AFP]

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) fighting charges that he tried to rape a 32-year-old hotel maid, has been denied bail and sent to New York's Rikers Island jail.

Lawyers for Strauss-Kahn, who appeared in a New York court on Monday, said he would plead not guilty to the accusations.

The IMF chief, accustomed to luxury hotel suites and first-class plane travel, was moved to a bare cell at Rikers hours after being denied bail. He is due to appear in court again on May 20.

Making his first court appearance on the sex charges, the Frenchman looked grim-faced as he stood before a judge in a dark raincoat and open-collared shirt.

Strauss-Kahn, 62, said nothing as a lawyer professed his innocence and strove in vain to get him released on bail.

Lawyer claims alibi

The judge ruled against him after prosecutors' concerns that the wealthy banker might flee to France and put himself beyond the reach of US law.

Al Jazeera's Cath Turner, reporting from New York, said the judge's denial of bail was made on the basis of whether Strauss-Kahn was a perceived flight risk.

"This is a big blow for the defence's case, of course," our correspondent said.

"But this is very much a 'he-said, she-said' case at the moment. The defence lawyer said they have someone who was having lunch with Strauss-Kahn at the time he was allegedly assaulting the maid," she added.

Ryan Sesa, a police deputy spokesman, said charges against Strauss-Kahn included a "criminal sexual act, unlawful imprisonment and attempted rape".

The 32-year-old maid told authorities that she entered Strauss-Kahn's suite at the Sofitel hotel believing it was unoccupied but that the IMF chief emerged from the bathroom naked, chased her down a hallway, pulled her into a bedroom and dragged her into a bathroom, police said.

She ultimately broke free, escaped the room and told hotel staff what had happened, authorities said. She was treated at a hospital for minor injuries.

"The victim provided a very powerful and detailed account of the violent sexual assault," John McConnell, an assistant district atttorney, said.

He added that a forensic inquiry, to which Strauss-Kahn voluntarily agreed on Sunday night, may support her account.

Fresh charges

As Strauss-Kahn appeared in court, fresh charges of sexual assault emerged in his home country, with a writer saying she would make a complaint against the IMF chief for trying to sexually assault her in 2002.

Tristane Banon, a novelist and journalist, previously made the allegation against Strauss-Kahn in 2007 - on television and in an interview with a news website - but she had not made a formal complaint to the authorities.

Her mother, also a Socialist candidate, had previously urged Banon not to press charges.

"We're planning to make a complaint. I am working with her," Banon's lawyer, David Koubbi, said.

The allegations against Strauss-Kahn have thrown the 2012 French election into disarray as the IMF chief had been seen as a strong contender for the presidency.

Even if Strauss-Kahn's name is cleared, the case is likely to boost incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy's prospects of re-election, pollsters said.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who polls suggested would come second behind Strauss-Kahn in a first round vote, also stands to benefit given her long-running complaint about French politics as an elitist boys' club.

"It is the first time a judicial affair has had such an impact on the presidential election," Frederic Daby of pollsters IFOP told the Reuters news agency. "It's unprecedented in France's political history."

The Socialists, who have no other candidate to match Strauss-Kahn, have vowed to press on with their primary selection process.

IMF informal session

The IMF, meanwhile, issued a statement on Monday saying its executive board would "continue to monitor developments".

Caroline Atkinson, the fund's director of external relations, said the executive board had met in an informal session to "receive a verbal report from senior Fund officials ... on developments related to Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn".

"The Board was briefed regarding criminal charges that have been brought against the Managing Director during a private visit to New York City," she said.

London's Financial Times said the scandal threatened to undermine Europe's influence within the body at a time when the euro is in crisis.

"It may well force the organisation's members to confront wider issues of European influence over the fund, even as it prepares to extend more rescue loans to Western Europe," the paper said.

But the European Commission has said the case should have no impact on bailout plans for struggling eurozone nations.

Paul Brennan, Al Jazeera's reporter in Paris, the French capital, said the incident had sent shockwaves across France and the international community.

"We're hearing rumours that Mr Strauss-Kahn is considering stepping down from the IMF, notwithstanding any court appearance or whether or not the charges stick," our correspondent said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies