France On IMF Chief's Arrest: 'We're All Shocked'

May 15, 2011
Originally published on May 16, 2011 6:45 am

The arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, in a New York sexual assault case has shocked France, where he was widely expected to be the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party next year.

Strauss-Kahn was supposed to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Sunday to discuss the Greek debt crisis. Instead, one of the most powerful men on the planet is in the custody of New York police, facing possible charges of sexual assault, attempted rape and imprisonment.

France woke up Sunday morning to the sordid details. Police in New York say Strauss-Kahn attacked a hotel maid who had come to clean his room, and she had to fight him off before escaping. Strauss-Kahn fled the hotel, they said, leaving behind personal articles, including his cell phone. He was seated in a first-class seat on a Paris-bound Air France flight when police arrested him.

In Paris, the most prevalent reaction was surprise.

"We're all shocked, and I am astonished that someone who was going to run for president would do something like this," said Dimitry Dinas, 28, who was with his friends near the Eiffel Tower. "Is it an organized plot to frame him? That's what we're all wondering."

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or DSK as he is known in France, seemed to have it all. Though he had not yet announced his candidacy for president, he was already a frontrunner in opinion polls. Paris has been buzzing for months about when he would officially throw his hat into the ring.

But Strauss-Kahn has had personal difficulties. In 2008, he had an affair with a subordinate at the IMF, which he later acknowledged was an error of judgment. But even in a land where politicians are allowed their private lives, the latest accusations may prove too much.

Parisian Ludivine Fuerlin says she is disgusted by the news.

"There's a huge difference between having a mistress and trying to rape a maid in a hotel," she said. "It's just not acceptable."

Strauss-Kahn's attorneys say he will plead not guilty to all charges, and the IMF said John Lipsky, the organization's first deputy managing director, will serve as acting IMF chief.

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GUY RAZ, Host:

Eleanor Beardsley picks up the story for us from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Today, Parisians gathered under the Eiffel Tower to picnic and hang out. Everyone seems to be talking about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, including 28-year- old Dimitry Dinas and his friends.

DIMITRY DINAS: (Through translator) We're all shocked, and I'm astonished that someone who was going to run for president would do something like this. Is it an organized plot to frame him? That's what we're all wondering.

BEARDSLEY: Parisian Ludivine Fuerlin says she is disgusted.

LUDIVINE FUERLIN: (Through translator) There's a huge difference between having a mistress and trying to rape a maid in a hotel. It's just not acceptable.

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.