|Polls suggested Strauss-Kahn could have been a rival to Nicolas Sarkozy in France’s presidential election [AFP]
Dominique Strauss-Kahn is no stranger to scandal. The French politician, lawyer, economist and author rose from being a student Communist activist to the very top of the International Monetary Fund – before being forced to step down when a 32-year-old maid accused him of attempted rape at a New York hotel in May 2011.
He had already faced charges of sexual dalliances while on the job. In 2008, a year after his appointment as IMF managing director, DSK – as he had become known in a media obsessed with acronyms – was investigated by the organisation over an affair with a junior colleague, Piroska Nagy, a Hungarian economist.
Initially the scandal appeared potentially damaging, but the IMF stood by Strauss-Kahn, reasoning that he did not abuse his office and that the relationship was consensual. He apologised for “an error of judgment”, while Nagy subsequently left the IMF.
But the 2011 rape allegations led to him being hauled off an Air France flight at John F Kennedy Airport by police as he prepared to fly home. His bail, granted by a New York court after he parted with $1m, came after he had had a short stint at Rikers Island jail, home to some of America’s notorious criminals.
Strauss-Kahn was in virtual imprisonment in New York until a judge in the state dismissed charges against him due to the credibility of his accuser, Nafissatou Diallo, a chambermaid who entered the US after lying on her asylum application that she had been gang-raped in her native Guinea.
Since that case against him collapsed, Strauss-Kahn has faced several further allegations of sexual violence and impropriety.
French novelist Tristane Banon first alleged she had been raped by Strauss-Kahn in a 2007 TV interview, but his name was bleeped out.
She renewed her allegations during the New York case, saying she had fought off sexual advances of the “great seducer”. His lawyers threatened to file a slander complaint against Banon if she went ahead with her case.
The New York rape charge came as Strauss-Kahn was riding high in opinion polls as a leading contender to oppose Nicolas Sarkozy for the French presidency.
Strauss-Kahn, who is understood to have separated from his third wife, American-born French journalist Anne Sinclair, in the summer of 2012, maintained a discreet silence on his return in France, not making any statements when he disembarked from the flight from New York – though a bevy of local and foreign journalists were keen to hear what he had to say.
He said after the charges were dropped: “It’s the end of the horrible ordeal. I thank my wife, my kids, my friends who supported me during this period and those who sent me letters and emails. They should know that this support was very important.”
Strauss-Kahn’s reputation was further tarnished by the Banon case, though Paris public prosecutors concluded there was not sufficient proof of attempted rape.
The French inquiry did find evidence suggesting a a lesser charge of sexual assault – but no action was taken because of a three-year statute of limitations.
Since then, DSK has faced allegations over his suspected involvement in a prostitution ring. He was held for two days in February 2012 in a French police station, where investigators questioned him about allegations that prostitutes were hired for sex parties at hotels in Lille, Paris and Washington.
Police wanted to establish whether Strauss-Kahn knew that women at those parties were sex workers. His lawyer has said he had no reason to think so.
In October 2012, prosecutors dropped an investigation into his suspected involvement with a gang rape that was said to have occurred in Washington. The Belgian woman whose testimony was the basis for the investigation withdrew her statement and refused to press charges, said Lille prosecutors.
But the “Carlton Affair” prostitution ring allegations remain. In December 2012, a court in Douai decided to maintain “aggravated pimping charges” against Strauss-Kahn. His lawyers argue that consorting with prostitutes is not illegal and that investigators have no arguments for pursuing him on the grounds that his behaviour could be construed as pimping, which is illegal.
Strauss-Kahn, who is reportedly taking steps to reinvent himself as a highly paid consultant and conference speaker, has said the authorities are trying to “criminalise lust”.
Political rise and fall
DSK was a junior minister for trade and industry under President Francois Mitterand between 1991 and 1993, before founding a consultancy firm and becoming an industry lobbyist. He re-entered politics in 1995, becoming mayor of Sarcelles, a northern suburb of Paris.
He then served in Prime Minister’s Lionel Jospin’s Socialist government as finance minister between 1997 and 1999, cutting the public deficit to qualify France for the euro and taking steps that led to the privatisation of some state firms – leading some analysts to credit him with France’s economic recovery of the late 1990s.
Strauss-Kahn was forced to resign from that position in 1999, after he was caught up in a corruption scandal, though a court later cleared him.
He lost out on the Socialist Party’s nomination for the French presidential election in 2006, but was surprisingly proposed as a candidate to run the IMF by Sarkozy. Some said the move to recommend him for the IMF job was intended to get him out of Paris and out of domestic politics.
Strauss-Kahn won praise as head of the IMF for placing the global body at the centre of global efforts to cope with the financial meltdown of 2007-09, and introduced sweeping changes to help countries in need.
He oversaw changes that have given emerging market countries greater voting power in the institution, winning praise from “progressive” economists such as Joseph Stiglitz.
Despite being based in Washington, he has continued to spend a lot of time in France, and the New York Post newspaper reported hours after the sexual assault allegations that he had a deal with Air France to get on any flight.