Mr Strauss-Kahn was removed from an Air France plane 10 minutes before it was to take off for Paris. (Reuters : Ueslei Marcelino )
Prosecutors have charged International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn with a criminal sexual act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment in the alleged sexual assault of a hotel maid in New York City, police said.
Strauss-Kahn, a key player in the world's response to the 2007-09 financial meltdown and in Europe's ongoing debt crisis, was removed from an Air France plane 10 minutes before it was to take off for Paris from John F Kennedy International Airport, New York police spokesman Paul Browne said.
A lawyer representing Strauss-Kahn, Benjamin Brafman, told Reuters in an email that the IMF chief "will plead not guilty." Mr Brafman made no further comment.
A 32-year-old maid filed a sexual assault complaint after fleeing the hotel suite at the Sofitel in Times Square where the alleged incident occurred, Mr Browne said.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, who has been considered a possible Socialist Party candidate in the French presidential election in April and May 2012, left the hotel after the incident, the police spokesman said.
The woman, who has not been named, "was brought by EMS (emergency medical services) to the Roosevelt Hospital, where she was treated for minor injuries," Mr Browne said.
Mr Browne said Strauss-Kahn does not have diplomatic immunity.
Impact on IMF
Strauss-Kahn was on his way to Europe for a meeting on Sunday with German chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the European debt crisis and then was to attend a euro zone finance ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday.
The allegation will be a major worldwide embarrassment to the IMF, which has authorised billions of dollars in lending programs to troubled countries and has played a major role in the euro zone debt crisis.
It follows the announcement on Thursday the IMF's No. 2 official, John Lipsky, plans to step down in August when his term ends.
The IMF managing director has yet to say whether he will run for president, although French opinion polls put him as a clear winner over conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy if the two faced off in an election.
Strauss-Kahn took over the International Monetary Fund in November 2007 for a five-year term scheduled to end next year.
Before that, he was a French finance minister, member of the French National Assembly and a professor of economics at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris.
The IMF declined to comment and IMF board officials told Reuters they had not been informed officially of the incident.
Since taking over the IMF, he has won plaudits for putting the fund, the world's main overseer of the global economic system, at the centre of global efforts to cope with the financial meltdown of 2007-09.
Strauss-Kahn introduced sweeping changes at the global institution to ensure that countries swamped by the financial collapse had access to emergency loans.
He was pivotal in brokering a bailout program for Iceland, Hungary, Greece, Ireland, and recently Portugal.
He has also overseen internal changes that have given emerging market countries, such as China, India and Brazil, greater voting power in the institution, and weighed into thornier issues by urging China to allow its currency to rise in value in a dispute with the United States.
Based in Washington at the IMF's headquarters, Strauss-Kahn has continued to spend a lot of time in France, fanning speculation he was considering re-entering politics as a presidential candidate.
Mr Lipsky's planned departure and now Strauss-Kahn's detention raises questions about a possible leadership vacuum should the IMF chief be charged by US authorities or face possible discipline by the IMF board.