After Complaint, IMF Chief's Arrest Was Swift

May 17, 2011

Nina Totenberg

The International Monetary Fund board is seeking to contact its managing director to hear his side of the story, but Dominique Strauss-Kahn sits in a solitary cell at Rikers Island, N.Y., isolated for his own protection, and under a routine suicide watch.

The unfolding legal saga swirling about him in New York has all the hallmarks of a sensational Law and Order episode. A top international financier, considered the front-runner to become the next president of France, Strauss-Kahn was arrested by New York police at John F. Kennedy Airport as he was about to depart and charged with sexually assaulting a maid at the hotel where he was staying. On Monday, a judge in New York denied bail to Strauss-Kahn on grounds that he is a flight risk.

The case is an amazing tale — a story that defies cynical expectations about the power of the privileged.

The Alleged Incident

As spelled out in court, by police sources and in news reports, the maid entered the hotel suite where Strauss-Kahn was staying, thinking it was empty. She walked into the suite, called out to make sure nobody was there, and when she didn't get an answer, went to the bedroom area to begin cleaning. At that point, Strauss-Kahn walked out of the bathroom naked. The maid apologized and turned to leave, but she made it only as far as the foyer. Strauss-Kahn allegedly ran up behind her, closed the door, locked it and dragged her into the bedroom where, according to the criminal complaint, he forced her to perform oral sex. The maid told the police that she broke free, ran out of the bedroom, but was caught again and dragged this time into the bathroom where Strauss-Kahn once again tried to force her into sexual acts. She broke free again, and this time managed to escape. She immediately reported the attack to her supervisor, and the hotel quickly called the police.

Though one can imagine the hotel management wringing its hands over offending a VIP customer, there apparently was no hesitation about reporting the alleged sexual attack. According to police sources, "there just was never any doubt." When the police got there, "the whole staff knew." The woman had a good employment record. She is a 32-year-old West African immigrant, a Muslim who wears a headscarf, a single mother and "hard worker." Sources said that just from her demeanor, the people at the hotel could tell that she "had been victimized, and badly victimized."

Cell Phone

Detectives from the Midtown South precinct were dispatched and interviewed the woman. "Police often get flack for interviewing rape victims too aggressively," says Deputy New York Police Commissioner Paul Browne, "but they do it for a reason, to make sure the story hangs together, that there are no inconsistencies, and they were convinced." Then, amazingly, while the police were there, Strauss-Kahn called the hotel, mistakenly believing that he had left a cell phone behind. The police coached hotel personnel to tell Strauss-Kahn that they had the cell phone and to ask where he was, and that they would get the phone to him.

He told them he was at JFK Airport, about to leave on a plane. Whereupon, the police called the Port Authority Police, said they were on their way and to hold the plane if necessary. They, in fact, got there 10 minutes before the plane was due to leave. According to police sources, the Port Authority officers boarded, asked Strauss-Kahn to come with them, that they had his cell phone, and when he got off the plane, the New York Police Department clapped the handcuffs on and took him away to the Special Victims Unit, the unit made famous on Law and Order.

Police Lineup

According to police sources, SVU was called in by Manhattan South, and while the first group of detectives were pursuing the alleged attacker, SVU detectives were dealing with the victim, taking her to one of the designated New York hospitals where there are special rape teams that do tests to collect DNA and to take photos; the teams also have counselors to help the victim, and hospital personnel are trained to make sure that the evidence chain of custody is not broken. Later, the alleged victim picked Strauss-Kahn out of a lineup.

Police sources say there is no indication to date that the line detectives who made all these decisions had any idea of just how important Strauss-Kahn was. Rather, he was just viewed as a very rich fleeing suspect. They didn't learn till later, said one police source, that French officials get to stay in this $3,000 a night suite for a discounted rate of $800.

Strauss-Kahn has pleaded not guilty.

At his arraignment hearing, his lawyers made clear they will contend the sex here was consensual. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, Strauss-Kahn, known in France as something of a womanizer, predicted in an interview with a French newspaper that he might fall victim to an invented scandal if he ran for president of France. "A woman raped in a car park and who's been promised 500,000 or a million euros to invent such a story," he said. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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