Prosecutors in New York have charged Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a likely French presidential candidate, with a criminal sexual act and the attempted rape of a hotel maid.
The charges follow allegations made by a 32-year-old woman who worked as a maid at a Manhattan hotel, where Strauss-Kahn had been staying in a $3,000-a-night suite.
A police spokesperson said Strauss-Kahn does not have diplomatic immunity. Bejamin Brafman, a lawyer for the IMF chief, told Reuters in an e-mail that Strauss-Kahn will plead not guilty.
A police spokesman said the 62-year-old Strauss-Kahn appeared to have fled the hotel after the incident. He was later taken off an Air France plane at New York's John F. Kennedy airport minutes before it was due to leave for Paris.
Strauss-Kahn was on his way to Europe for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel today and was due to attend a eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels on May 16.
Strauss-Kahn had been considered a possible Socialist Party candidate to run again President Nicolas Sarkozy in French presidential elections next April, and was expected to announce his candidacy within weeks.
In Paris, residents today expressed a mixture of shock and resignation about the news.
"It's very surprising that something like this happens just when he is about to declare himself a candidate," one man said. "I'm wondering whether it could be a plot against him. I don't know."
"It doesn't surprise me," a woman said. "I was waiting for it to come out at one time or another. I think a lot of people are aware of it. I think it's a shame that he wasn't more careful and that the presidential election wasn't important enough for him. It's a shame he couldn't have made an effort."
Strauss-Kahn, a former French finance minister, took over the IMF in November 2007.
In October 2008, Strauss-Kahn apologized for "an error of judgment" for conducting an affair with a female subordinate but denied he had abused his position.
The allegation will be a massive embarrassment to the IMF, which has authorized billions of dollars in lending programs to troubled countries and has played a major role in the eurozone debt crisis.
The IMF said today it is "fully functioning and operational" despite the arrest of its chief.
compiled from agency reports