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French outraged by US treatment of IMF chief

French Socialist politicians voiced outrage on Tuesday at the parading of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn handcuffed and unshaven in the United States.
/ Source: Reuters

French Socialist politicians voiced outrage on Tuesday at the parading of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn handcuffed and unshaven in the United States before he has a chance to defend himself on charges of attempted rape.

Arrested on Saturday and charged with sexually assaulting a chambermaid at a luxury New York hotel, Strauss-Kahn was made by police to walk manacled in front of cameras on his way to a courthouse, and his appearance before a judge was televised.

Former Culture Minister Jack Lang described the treatment of the Socialist presidential frontrunner -- whose political career is now in tatters -- as a "lynching" that had "provoked horror and aroused disgust."

The U.S. justice system, he said, was "politicized" and the judge appeared to have been determined to "make a Frenchman pay" by denying the head of the International Monetary Fund bail even though his lawyer had offered to post a $1 million bond.

To many Americans, the handling of Strauss-Kahn reflected an egalitarian tradition that all crime suspects get the same treatment, regardless of their wealth or power.

Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry denounced "degrading images" and said France was lucky to have a law on the presumption of innocence that bars media from showing defendants in handcuffs before they are convicted.

Former Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou, who drafted that law, called the pre-trial publicity "absolutely sickening."

"The power of these images of a Dominique Strauss-Kahn who hasn't been allowed to shave, tired, and not dressed properly, all that offends human dignity," she told Europe 1 radio.

Another respected former justice minister, Robert Badinter, who pushed through the abolition of the death penalty in France, said the IMF chief had been subjected to "death by media."

"Never forget it's not just judges that are elected (in New York), but prosecutors. And the chief of police is elected. And clearly, in public opinion, to exhibit a powerful rich man in the presence of a victim from a very poor background, electorally, it pays off."

'Perp walk'
Conservative politicians mostly refrained from commenting on the images of their political rival, heeding President Nicolas Sarkozy's call to show "restraint and dignity," according to a lawmaker who attended a private meeting with him on Tuesday.

Some media commentators and lawyers said that making Strauss-Kahn take a so-called "perp walk" — a U.S. tradition of obliging a suspected "perpetrator" to run a gauntlet of media cameras — appeared designed to humiliate him and perhaps soften him up for a plea bargain.

Previous suspects forced to take a "perp walk" included boxer Mike Tyson, pop star Michael Jackson and Kenneth Lay, the former boss of bankrupt energy trader Enron.

"I suppose there is an element of theater in it," U.S. attorney Graham Wisner of Patton Boggs in New York, told Reuters Television.

"For the most part in the United States it's a practice utilized by authorities to humiliate suspects... There is at least a perception in this case that a "perp" or suspect is guilty when he walks shamefaced in front of all of the cameras," Wisner said.

Judge Melissa Jackson ordered Strauss-Kahn to be detained in the Rikers Island prison after district attorney Daniel Alonso argued that the IMF chief could flee the United States and there was no legal way to force him to return.

In announcing her decision, the judge noted that Strauss-Kahn had been arrested aboard an Air France plane about to take off for Paris.

U.S. prosecutors cited the case of celebrity film director Roman Polanski, a French citizen whom Switzerland and France refused last year to extradite to the United States. He fled the United States while awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor in the 1970s.

One of Strauss-Kahn's lawyers, Dominique de Leusse, told France-Info radio that the French media were flouting the law by running footage of his client in handcuffs and in court.

"The press are having a field day with these images that are contrary to French law. They undermine visibly the dignity of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his presumption of innocence," he said.