May 15 (Bloomberg) -- An attempted-rape charge against Dominique Strauss-Kahn may put an end to his prospects of running in the French presidential election even as his party called for calm and unity until the allegations are verified.
Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, was charged with attempted rape and a criminal sex act in New York, police there said today. A former French finance minister and member of France’s opposition Socialist Party, Strauss-Kahn has consistently led the list of possible candidates to contest France’s 2012 presidential election, according to a series of opinion polls over the past months.
“It’s a tsunami,” Laurent Dubois of the Paris Political Studies Institute, said in a telephone interview. “There is no way that he can recover from this and run for president now.”
President Nicolas Sarkozy, Marine Le Pen, head of the extreme right National Front party, and Francois Hollande, a Strauss-Kahn rival in the Socialist party, may be among potential candidates to benefit from the IMF head’s troubles. The charges stem from a sexual attack and unlawful imprisonment that allegedly occurred yesterday against a 32-year-old woman at a Sofitel hotel in midtown Manhattan, the police said. Strauss-Kahn was arrested at John F. Kennedy airport while on an Air France flight heading for Paris.
“This is good news for Sarkozy, and Marine Le Pen also benefits from the situation,” Dubois said. “The most popular candidate for the presidential elections is out of the way. This reshuffles all the cards.”
Call for Unity
Franck Louvrier, a spokesman for Sarkozy, declined to comment on the Strauss-Kahn charges.
“This affair is rocking France,” Le Pen said in interviews with France’s LCI and i-Tele TV channels today. “It puts a brutal end to his candidacy.”
Strauss-Kahn’s Socialist party was quick to call for calm and unity, fearing Le Pen might gain from his candidacy-ending incident.
“The news that comes to us from New York since last night are like a thunder bolt,” Martine Aubry, the secretary general of the French Socialist Party, said in an e-mailed statement today. “I am, like everyone else, stupefied. I am asking the Socialists to remain united and responsible.”
Former Socialist party presidential candidate Segolene Royal called for respect for Strauss-Kahn and his family.
“The news is shocking but it all needs to be verified,” she said in an interview on the radio channel Europe 1. “People should remain calm, under control. Nobody should try to take advantage of the situation, in France or abroad.”
Hollande said it is “too early” to say Strauss-Kahn won’t run in the 2012 French presidential race because of charges of attempted rape in New York.
“We must guard against premature conclusions,” he told French TV channel Canal+ in an interview today.
Strauss-Kahn will plead not guilty, his lawyer Benjamin Brafman said.
Sarkozy would have trailed Strauss-Kahn by 5 percentage points in the first round of the presidential voting if elections had been held at the end of last month, a CSA poll for 20 Minutes newspaper, BFM TV and RMC radio showed April 28.
Strauss-Kahn, whose term at the IMF ends next year, over the last several months has declined to say whether he was planning to run for president. The vote will be held in April and May 2012.
The IMF chief drew heat in France over the past two weeks for his lifestyle that was dubbed luxurious and ostentatious. A photo in Le Parisien newspaper at the beginning of the month showed him and his wife getting into a Porsche in central Paris.
The latest charges add to scandals that have hurt France’s political class since Sarkozy’s election in 2007, according to Dubois of the Paris Political Studies Institute.
“People are under the impression that all politicians care about is money, personal interests, trivial events,” he said. “They feel like politicians couldn’t care less about the country and their problems.”
This is the second time since he took the helm of the IMF in November 2007 that Strauss-Kahn has faced allegations of misconduct. In 2008, a relationship with Piroska Nagy, a female economist at the IMF, had led to an investigation by the IMF board, which concluded that while he had made a “serious error of judgment,” he shouldn’t be fired.
“I find all these reactions of surprise hypocritical,” Le Pen said on LCI. “The truth that maybe the rest of France doesn’t know, but all of Paris knows, is that Strauss-Kahn has a problem with women, some say it’s an addiction.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Albertina Torsoli in Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at email@example.com