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French aghast at treatment of IMF chief

Glare of publicity accents differences as suspect resigns

France’s judicial system has shielded the powerful, such as IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, with many court proceedings taking place behind closed doors. France’s judicial system has shielded the powerful, such as IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, with many court proceedings taking place behind closed doors. (AFP/ Getty Images)
By Elaine Ganley
Associated Press / May 19, 2011

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PARIS — The trans-Atlantic gap separating the US and French justice systems and moral codes is as wide as the ocean itself, appalling a nation witnessing the unraveling fortunes of a favorite son, jailed IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Strauss-Kahn resigned yesterday as head of the International Monetary Fund.

“It is with infinite sadness that I feel compelled today to present to the Executive Board my resignation from my post of Managing Director of the IMF,’’ he said in a statement. “I think at this time first of my wife — whom I love more than anything — of my children, of my family, of my friends.’’

Some of the charges leveled against Strauss-Kahn in the alleged sexual assault of a hotel maid in New York do not exist in France. And if the case was being heard in France, the 62-year-old IMF chief might risk three to five years in prison instead of 20 years or more in the United States, a leading specialist says. He also probably would not be sitting in a cell on Rikers Island on a suicide watch.

Yesterday, lawyers for Strauss-Kahn made a second appeal for bail and proposed he be confined to his daughter’s Manhattan home 24 hours a day with electronic monitoring. He was set for another hearing this afternoon.

The French politician said in court papers that he had surrendered his passport and would not flee the country.

“I do not intend to leave the United States of America without the permission of the New York Court,’’ he said.

In court papers filed yesterday, Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys proposed posting $1 million cash bail and confining him to the home of his daughter, Camille, 24 hours a day with electronic monitoring.

Strauss-Kahn “is a loving husband and father, and a highly regarded diplomat, politician, lawyer, politician, economist, and professor, with no criminal record,’’ his lawyers said.

The lawyers had proposed similar conditions at an earlier bail hearing but added the promise of home detention yesterday.

Some in the United States have expressed surprise that French media have identified the alleged victim by name, nearly unthinkable in US journalistic circles, which avoid publishing a victim’s name in suspected sex crimes.

The photos of a potential French president — handcuffed, stooped, unshaven, and tieless — seemed to knock the breath out of the French public. The initial response was a collective, “That would not happen here.’’

Not in a country whose laws protect even a petty thief from flashing cameras in a public space and televised court hearings like the one broadcast Monday from Manhattan Criminal Court. Not in a country whose traditions have long shielded the philandering of the powerful, at the risk of failing to uncover travesties of the law.

So different are French laws and mores, it is conceivable that Strauss-Kahn — innocent or guilty — failed to grasp the speed by which American justice runs its course, the weight given to alleged sex offenses, and the egalitarian premise on which the US judicial system is based until he sat in the Rikers Island prison.

Despite the weight of the charges, it is likely, specialists say, that had the alleged hotel scene taken place in Paris, Strauss-Kahn’s dignity would have remained intact.

In France, unlike the United States, the judicial process takes place largely behind closed doors, and the political powers-that-be hold sway over prosecutors. For centuries, infidelities were a royal ritual, and bedroom secrets known to all were never more than court chatter.

That unwritten bedroom code of silence is still largely respected, although the practice is slowly giving way to a demand for more public accountability.

“The French accept many more moral transgressions of their president, of their political class, of their elite,’’ said Antoine Garapon, author of “To Judge in America and in France.’’

Having Strauss-Kahn jailed “is a kind of national humiliation,’’ said political analyst Dominique Moisi.

Yet some in France voiced respect for the US judicial system.

“It must be reiterated that the acts are very serious,’’ said Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet in the daily Le Figaro. “In France, we have a tendency to treat this lightly.’’

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