NEW YORK, June 6, 2011 (AFP) - Fallen IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Monday pleaded not guilty to attempted rape, setting up a fierce New York courtroom showdown with his accuser.
AFP - Media congregates across from the apartment of Dominique Strauss-Kahn where he is staying with his wife, after his court appointment in New York, NY June 6, 2011.
Asked how he pleaded to seven counts of sex crimes, the former head of the world lender, once a top contender for president of France, stood before Judge Michael Obus and more than 100 journalists to say: "Not guilty."
Strauss-Kahn, 62, then left with his wife and two burly bodyguards assigned to enforce his house arrest.
Outside the New York State Supreme Court, a lawyer for the Sofitel hotel maid accusing Strauss-Kahn of trying to rape her said she would take the stand during the trial.
From the courthouse steps he told a huge crowd of journalists that the alleged sexual assault in Strauss-Kahn's Sofitel luxury suite May 14 had left her "traumatized."
"She's going to come to the courthouse, she's going to tell the truth. What she wants is justice," lawyer Kenneth Thompson told reporters.
"The victim wants you to know that all of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's power, money, and influence throughout the world will not keep the truth about what he did to her in that hotel room from coming out."
A group of maids wearing their work uniforms demonstrated at the court, booing Strauss-Kahn as he arrived and chanting "Shame on you!" Their cries were audible from the 13th-floor courtroom where his seven minute arraignment hearing unfolded.
"We are here to support our co-worker," said Doris Codie, a 46-year-old maid who has worked for 15 years at Manhattan's Pierre Hotel, among those bused in by their union.
The next court hearing was set for July 18 and a trial could be months away. While the maid is set to be the main prosecution witness, Strauss-Kahn can choose not to testify.
He faces a likely maximum sentence of 25 years in prison if convicted.
Defense lawyers led by high-profile attorney Benjamin Brafman are strongly indicating they will not challenge the assertion that a sexual encounter took place.
This could be in recognition of apparently strong physical evidence collected by police, including, according to leaked reports, semen on the maid's shirt.
Instead, Brafman could argue that sex was consensual and that prosecutors cannot prove force was used.
"It will be clear that there was no element of forcible compulsion in this case whatsoever. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply not credible," Brafman told reporters outside the court building Monday.
Thompson said any suggestion that his client was a willing partner was a "smear campaign." However, "she is standing up for her dignity," he said.
The defendant was one of the most influential people in the global economy and widely considered to be a leading contender for the French presidency until his shock arrest on an Air France plane about to depart New York for Paris.
After a humiliating week in police detention and in the city's Rikers Island jail, Strauss-Kahn was released on house arrest after securing a $6 million bond and bail deal.
The bail allows him to leave the house only to visit his lawyers, pray once a week or go to court. He lives under armed guard and wears an ankle monitoring bracelet, although visits from family and a few friends are permitted.
His arrest and quick resignation from his post as head of the International Monetary Fund threw the global lender and economic policy powerhouse into disarray as it grapples with debt crises in the European Union.
It also caused dismay in France. Many there still believe the Socialist party figure has been mistreated, but the case has also stirred unusually vigorous debate in the country over long-taboo subjects such as sexual harassment.
Strauss-Kahn, whose wife is an American-born art heiress and famous former French television journalist, is spending vast sums on his defense. Just the bill for his home detention costs some $200,000 a month, according to prosecutors, while rental for his TriBeCa townhouse is estimated at $50,000 a month.
In addition to Brafman, Strauss-Kahn is employing private investigators believed to be digging into the personal life of the maid. Lawyers claim to have information that could "gravely undermine" her position, but they have not given more detail.
The prosecution is also led by big guns Joan Illuzzi-Orbon and Ann Prunty. Illuzzi-Orbon is head of the Manhattan District Attorney's hate crimes unit.