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Former IMF leader gets bail in sex assault case

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is granted bail by a New York judge, and the former IMF chief has vowed to fight charges that he tried to rape a hotel maid in Manhattan.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

A judge agreed Thursday to free former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn from a New York City jail on the condition that he post $1 million in bail and remain under house arrest, under the watch of armed guards, at a private apartment in Manhattan.

The 62-year-old banker and diplomat wore an expression of relief after Supreme Court Justice Michael J. Obus announced his decision in a packed Manhattan courtroom. Later, he blew a kiss toward his wife.

The ruling didn't free Strauss-Kahn immediately. Authorities need time to review and approve the security arrangements involved in his home detention, which lawyers said would be at an apartment rented by his wife. They did not disclose the location of the home.

Strauss-Kahn will also have to take out a $5 million insurance bond. It's not believed the wealthy banker will have any problem meeting the financial conditions of his release.

"He's going back to Rikers tonight and we expect him to be released (Friday)," said William Taylor, one of his attorneys.

His political career in shambles and his leadership of the IMF a memory, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was formally indicted at Thursday's hearing on charges that he sexually abused a maid at a Manhattan hotel.

Since his arrest, the French politician has been held at the city's bleak Rikers Island jail complex. Prosecutors had opposed his release, saying his wealth and international connections would make it easy for him to flee.

Evidence for an indictment
A prosecutor began Thursday's hearing by announcing that a grand jury had found enough evidence for an indictment, a procedural step that elevates the seriousness of the charge. Without it, authorities would have been unable to detain him for longer than a week.

"The proof against him is substantial. It is continuing to grow every day as the investigation continues," said Assistant District Attorney John "Artie" McConnell. "We have a man who, by his own conduct in this case, has shown a propensity for impulsive criminal conduct."

Strauss arrived for the hearing wearing a gray suit and an open blue shirt. As he entered, he turned to give a quick smile to his daughter and wife, the French television journalist Anne Sinclair, seated in the gallery.

Similar house arrest arrangements have been made for other high-profile defendants in the city, most notably Bernard Madoff, the Ponzi scheme mastermind who stole billions of dollars from his clients.

Taylor called the arrangement "restrictive," although he suggested few precautions were necessary.

"In our view, no bail is required to confirm Mr. Strauss-Kahn's appearance. He is an honorable man. He will appear in this court and anywhere else the court directs, and he has only one interest at this time, and that is to clear his name," Taylor said.

The defense team made an initial request for bail on Monday that was denied, but was making additional arguments before a new judge, Obus, for the first time. The judge oversees all criminal courts in Manhattan.

In France, a Socialist lawmaker and longtime ally, Francois Pupponi, expressed relief at the decision to allow Strauss-Kahn to leave jail.

"There's finally a bit of good news in a terrible week," he said on BFM-TV. "We were no longer expecting good news."

Strauss-Kahn resigned as managing director of the International Monetary Fund late Wednesday, saying he needed to focus on clearing his name.

Huge crowd of journalists
Scores of reporters lined up outside the courtroom door before the hearing, with a huge crowd of journalists and cameras poised outside the building. State court system spokesman David Bookstaver said the media throng was one of the biggest at the courthouse since Mark David Chapman was arrested in the 1980 killing of John Lennon.

Sinclair emerged from a black town car shortly before the scheduled hearing time. As she was rushed into the courthouse by security officers, one of her shoes slipped off as she was being led up some stairs. She struggled for a moment to get it back on as court guards shouted at a jostling scrum of photographers.

"Are you confident?" One journalist shouted. Sinclair stared straight ahead and did not respond.

Strauss-Kahn is accused of attacking a 32-year-old housekeeper Saturday afternoon at his Manhattan hotel suite. The West African immigrant told police that he chased her down a hallway, forced her to perform oral sex and tried to remove her stockings.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. called the charges "extremely serious."

In his resignation letter, released by the IMF executive board, Strauss-Kahn denied the allegations against him, but said he would quit to protect the institution.

The political wrangling over who will succeed Strauss-Kahn at the IMF already has begun. European officials, including Germany's chancellor, the European Commission and France's finance minister, have been arguing that his replacement should be European.

Some authorities from China and Brazil have said it is time to break Europe's traditional dominance over the position and appoint someone from a developing nation. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has asked for an "open process," without mentioning any specific candidates.

A police mug shot of the 62-year-old, taken more than 24 hours after he was detained, showed him looking exhausted, his eyes downcast and half-closed and wearing a rumpled, open-neck shirt.

The photograph has fuelled outrage in France over the way the man seen as a strong contender for the French presidency was paraded before the cameras in what is called the "perp walk" before he had a chance to defend himself in court.

Polls released in France on Wednesday showed 57 percent of respondents thought the Socialist politician was definitely, or probably, the victim of a plot.

'Aggressive' encounterMeanwhile, claims of Strauss-Kahn's past sexual misconduct continued to emerge Thursday, piling on to earlier accusations from a French journalist who said Strauss-Kahn tried to force himself upon her and the revelation Monday by Assistant District Attorney John McConnell that New York authorities were working to verify at least one other case of "conduct similar to the conduct alleged" by the hotel maid.

A source familiar with the investigation said investigators are reviewing the case of Piroska Nagy, an IMF economist who had an affair with Strauss-Kahn three years ago.

The IMF disclosed in 2008 that it was investigating whether Strauss-Kahn abused his power by becoming involved with Nagy, an economist in the IMF's Africa division.

At the time, Strauss-Kahn claimed that he had cooperated with an investigation the IMF launched into the matter and said: "At no time did I abuse my position as the Fund's managing director."

But in an October 2008 letter she sent to a lawyer who was investigating the matter for the IMF, Nagy said she believed Strauss-Kahn abused his position by summoning her on several occasions to make "inappropriate suggestions."

"Despite my long professional life, I was unprepared by advances by the Managing Director of the IMF. I did not know how to handle this; as I told you I felt that I was 'damned if I did and damned if I didn't,'" Nagy wrote.

Also Thursday, London's The Times newspaper reported that Strauss-Kahn patronized the same madam whose agency listed former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer on its client list. Spitzer left office amid the prostitution scandal in 2008.

"Manhattan Madam" Kristin Davis said Strauss-Kahn hired escorts from her Wicked Models agency twice in 2006, before his tenure at the IMF, The Times reported.

According to the report, Davis said a Bosnian escort working in Paris referred the embattled financial leader to Wicked Models.

He paid $1,200 for the services of an "all-American" girl in January 2006 and later booked a Brazilian escort in September of that year, Davis told the newspaper.

"He paid in cash," Davis told The Times. "The first girl I sent to him said he was aggressive and didn’t want to be back with him again." Davis said the second escort did not make a complaint after spending time with Strauss-Kahn.

The Times said it had confirmed that Strauss-Kahn was present in New York for a conference hosted by former President Bill Clinton in September 2006, but his whereabouts were unclear in January of that year.

Davis, who served a jail term related to her role in the Spitzer scandal, told The Times that she maintained paper and digital records of both of Strauss-Kahn's bookings and shared the information with the paper because she was unwilling to protect someone accused of abusing women.

Hour passes before cops called
New details have also emerged about the sequence of events surrounding the alleged attack.

Strauss-Kahn left the Sofitel near Times Square in Manhattan around 12:30 p.m. on Saturday and about an hour later, hotel security called police to report an alleged sexual assault, a law enforcement source said.

New York investigators are questioning why officials at the hotel waited an hour to call police after the IMF chief had left in a hurry.

In the only public hint of Strauss-Kahn's possible line of defense, his attorney Benjamin Brafman told his arraignment hearing on Monday that the evidence "will not be consistent with a forcible encounter."

Any trial could be six months or more away.

Accuser's solitary life
Before she started working at the Sofitel hotel in New York's bustling Times Square area, the maid spent her daily life within the same few city blocks.

The neighborhood where she lived and worked, a section of the Bronx lined with tiny grocers, hair salons and dollar stores, once infamously violent, is a hilly place called Concourse just north of Yankee Stadium.

There, the single mother and widow used to work an evening shift in a tiny takeout joint, African American Restaurant, located on the corner of a busy intersection. She lived with her daughter, most recently in an apartment building just 12 blocks away.

"She helped my wife," said the restaurant's owner, Bahoreh Jabbie, 60, who said he hired her after she came into the restaurant and asked his wife, Fatima, for help finding a job.

"She walked by herself when she came and she walked by herself when she left," he said, "I never saw her taking a free ride from nobody."

Jabbie, who moved to New York from Gambia and has run the restaurant since 2002, said he knew little of the woman's life outside the restaurant, but that her daughter would come in occasionally to buy something.

Other details of the woman's existence remain mysterious. Leaders of an organization that supports immigrants from a specific region in the woman's native Guinea in West Africa are trying to contact her to offer their help.

"She came to our attention on the news," said Mamadousidy Barry, 38, a spokesman for the organization called Pottalfiibhantal.

Barry believes the woman is from the region Pottalfiibhantal focuses on: Fouta Djallon, in central Guinea.

But the leader of the mosque where Pottalfiibhantal operates has said he does not know her. She was not actively involved in the Muslim community which people in the neighborhood say should have been hers, based on her native region.

"There are some people, they just like to be alone and take care of their own business," Barry said.