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Strauss-Kahn Reprieve May Not Be Enough for Place in French Vote

Former IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former International Monetary Fund chief arrives at court with his wife Anne Sinclair in New York on July 1, 2011. Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg

Dominique Strauss-Kahn won a reprieve with his release yesterday after Manhattan prosecutors found evidence undermining his accuser’s credibility. It may not be enough to put him in the 2012 French presidential race.

“His image has been too damaged,” said Laurent Dubois, a professor at the Paris Political Studies Institute. “There just wouldn’t be enough time for the necessary detoxification. There will always be a shadow over him.”

The former International Monetary Fund chief, accused of the sexual assault and attempted rape of a hotel maid in New York on May 14, was released yesterday on his recognizance and will have his bail returned but not his passport, New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus said. The case against him wasn’t dismissed and his next court hearing is scheduled for July 18. Strauss-Kahn has pleaded not guilty.

His Socialist Party is selecting its candidate for next year’s presidential vote through an open primary in October, the first time a French political party will choose its candidate this way. Contenders have until July 13 to register, with the winner challenging President Nicolas Sarkozy next May. Francois Hollande, a Socialist candidate, said he’s open to postponing the party’s leadership race to allow Strauss-Kahn to run.

Although Strauss-Kahn’s release gave his supporters hope for his possible return to French politics, few are willing to say he will be in the race.

‘In a Washing Machine’

“It’s better for him now,” Claude Bartolone, a Socialist Party lawmaker, said on i-tele television yesterday, referring to his release. Asked if he’ll make the race, Bartolone said, “DSK has other things on his mind. He’s spinning in a washing machine, and you’re asking if he’s coming to Paris to run in the primaries. If he’s found innocent, I’m sure he can once again play a role in French politics.”

The charges against Strauss-Kahn in the U.S. led to reports of other unwelcome advances he’d made and extra-marital liaisons he’d had. It also resulted in soul-searching in France about the attitude of powerful men to women. An under-secretary on Sarkozy’s cabinet resigned in May after being accused of sexual assault by at least two colleagues.

“The French are very forgiving of personal matters, but even they have a certain sense of what they want a president’s personality to be, and this doesn’t fit it,” said Bruno Jeanbart, director of political studies at polling company Opinionway. “These sorts of stories are very difficult to make go away.”

$50,000 Townhouse

In addition, Strauss-Kahn’s stay in a $50,000-a-month townhouse while on bail revealed the wealth of his American-born wife Anne Sinclair. With her help, he posted a $1 million cash bail and a $5 million bond, which will now be returned.

“The money he was able to spend is not exactly the sort of publicity you want as you run for the Socialist Party’s candidacy,” Dubois said. Sinclair, who stood by her husband, is the grand-daughter of one of France’s leading art dealers.

Strauss-Kahn was at onetime the leading Socialist candidate for the 2012 French presidential elections. Before his arrest, polls showed Strauss-Kahn as the Socialist candidate best placed to defeat Sarkozy. Two party leaders, Martine Aubry and Hollande, announced their candidacies after his arrest and emerged as the front runners.

Since his May 14 arrest, many Strauss-Kahn allies have declared their own candidacy or endorsed other candidates.

“The Socialist Party has already turned the page,” Frederic Dabi, director of public opinion at polling company Ifop said in a telephone interview. “Many of DSK’s lieutenants have joined other campaigns.”

A ‘Major’ Role

Party leaders yesterday mostly limited their comments to messages of personal support for Strauss-Kahn.

Aubry said she was “speaking as a friend of DSK” in saying that she hoped that “the American justice system will establish the truth and allow Dominique to exit this nightmare.” She declined to answer a question about the schedule of the primaries in her comments to TV crews in the northern town of Lille, where she is mayor.

Segolene Royal, who beat Strauss-Kahn to become the Socialist candidate in 2007 and then lost to Sarkozy, said on Europe1 radio that “everyone should be careful not to exploit this moment.”

Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon said today on France’s parliamentary television channel that suspending or delaying the primary “is not currently on the agenda.”

Asked about Strauss-Kahn possibly being a candidate in the party’s primary, he replied: “We can’t go faster than the music. We have all heard lots of things, but until they are confirmed by the U.S. justice system this all remains just conjecture.”

Sarkozy spokesman Franck Louvrier yesterday said he had no comment.

Strauss-Kahn’s political allies were more outspoken. “If he’s freed, Dominique should be called on to play a major political role in France,” Jack Lang, a former culture minister, yesterday said on BFM television.

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