France today woke up to shocking pictures of the usually well-groomed and dapper IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn being led away, handcuffed, unshaven, tie-less and grim faced from the Harlem police lock-up where he spent the night for DNA tests that will ultimately prove or disprove his case. Mr. Strauss-Kahn, popularly referred to as DSK in France, has been charged with attempted rape, unlawful imprisonment following accusations by a hotel chambermaid in New York that he sexually assaulted her.

More than the handcuffs, the scruffy look or that he was on a grubby New York street accompanied by police officers rather than in the gilded salons of high finance surrounded with bankers and courtiers, it was the look of utter devastation on Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s face that so shattered his countrymen.

Socialist leader Manuel Valls said: "I’ve never seen anything like this in my thirty years in politics. Never have I felt so shaken. He is a longtime friend and the pictures I saw this morning were of an unbearable cruelty that brought tears to my eyes."

Eva Joly, a former judge who investigated Strauss Kahn for corruption and declared him innocent said: "Justice in the U.S. is much harsher than in France, especially for sex offenses. Little attention appears to be paid to the presumption of innocence. If you are charged, in the eyes of most you are as good as guilty. If found guilty, DSK could receive a prison sentence ranging from 20 to 25 years."

Increasingly, theories of entrapment and a deliberate frame-up are gaining ground in France. Canal Plus, a TV station generally sympathetic to leftwing causes, revealed that the first person to break the news a full hour before mainstream media knew of what happened on Saturday afternoon was Jonathan Pinet, a student close to Mr. Sarkozy’s UMP Party who had been tipped off by a friend working at the hotel.

Christne Boutin, a practising Catholic and leader of the Christian Democratic party in France said: "He fell into a trap. This could have been set up by the French right, by the French Left or by the IMF. Perhaps they wanted to decapitate the IMF, since DSK was keen to break the stranglehold of the West on these institutions."

Strauss-Kahn was reportedly wary of the dangers that awaited him, suspicious of his security detail and the persons sent to keep him safe. He also had an uncanny intuition about what could lead to his downfall. The daily Liberation in an article published on Monday describes an interview it conducted with him on 28 April 2011. "He described the difficulties of the electoral campaign to come as: ‘Money, women and my Jewishness’. I can imagine a scenario like in a bad thriller – an underground parking where a woman, who’s been paid 500,000 euros accuses me of having raped her…"

However, other voices have added to the charges weighing against him. Jean Quatremer, a respected journalist working for the daily Liberation wrote in his blog in 2007 when DSK was first appointed as IMF chief that the new appointee would do well to keep his sexual appetites in check. "I have witnessed Strauss-Kahn importunating female journalists time and time again, sometimes in a manner so crass and gross it could only be called sexual harassment," he told The Hindu. "When I wrote that in my blog, I got a call from one of his directors of communications asking me to withdraw the story. I refused and told them they could take me to court. They did no such thing because any court action would have laid bare other incidents of a similar nature."

In the wake of the charges filed in New York, a young French journalist called Tristane Banon has decided to lodge a complaint. On a TV show in 2007 she had recounted how he harassed her but Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s name was concealed with a blip when the programme was aired. >She was persuaded by her mother not to lodge a complaint then. But now she feels she will get a fair hearing," her lawyer David Koubbi told reporters.

French society is sharply polarised about Mr. Strauss-Khan’s guilt or innocence.

"How the mighty can fall! Just looking at his face made me want to weep. I have never been one of his fans but he was someone who turned whatever he did to gold – a brilliant career, fabulous wealth, a beautiful and talented wife who forgave his many peccadilloes – fame, fortune and women were at his feet. And then he apparently throws it all away and why, for what? Pride, hubris maybe? Too much power that made him feel invincible? Of course if the charges are disproved and it turns out that he was framed he could still return like a conquering hero and then there’ll be no stopping his rise. But for the moment, it looks very grim indeed," said teacher Annie Ferrandini.

Said psychologist Marc Monod: "Of course the presumption of innocence must be kept in mind. But if this did actually happen the way the police describe and if one analyses it from the Freudian perspective, I would say this is symptomatic of a death wish, the destructive impulses that reside in all of us and which we fight hard to tame. That is what civilisation, the civilising or socialising process is all about. Sometimes when people reach the pinnacle of fame and fortune, these impulses to throw it all away on the turn of a coin can come to the fore and take over. It's self-destruction. Sometimes the burden of all that’s been achieved can also become too great to bear.”

The DSK affair hit markets hard, especially because he was playing such a major role in the Greek debt crisis. It also weighed on investor mood and stocks. The FTSE Eurofirst 300 index of top European shares was down 0.4 percent.

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