The IMF boss and front-runner to be the French Socialist Party’s presidential candidate next year, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been refused bail by a court in New York, according to the BBC. As has been widely reported he’s facing a charge of attempted rape. It may be that the defence can appeal the decision on bail; but subject to that, he’ll be in custody until his next court appearance on Friday.
The refusal of bail may surprise many people. I’m no expert in the criminal law of New York, but I’m not as surprised as all that. He’s charged with a very serious offence, of course, and is a foreign national. While it’s true that Strauss-Kahn – or “DSK” as the French call him – could be required to surrender his passport and live at home in Washington or with his daughter in New York, the prosecution said in court (some of the proceedings were live on France 24) that they didn’t know how many diplomatic travel documents he has. He was arrested at JFK airport, on a plane to Paris.
Perhaps most critically, France does not extradite French citizens, under Article 696-4 of the Code de procédure pénale. That means that if somehow he did make it to France, as long as he stayed there he would be beyond the reach of the New York courts. He would be subject to possible prosecution in France, though, under Article 113-6 of the Code pénal.
So it’s not that surprising the prosecution has opposed bail entirely, and initially succeeded. Whether he remains in custody is another matter: when the position on travel documents is clear, the courts may be satisfied, as it was here in Julian Assange’s case, with a tough package of bail conditions.
On another legal point, there seems to be disagreement about whether any diplomatic immunity might be available to DSK. The BBC cite Jovan Kurbalija, director of DiploFoundation, as saying he may technically enjoy absolute immunity from prosecution for anything he does; Kurt Taylor Gaubatz of Old Dominion University thinks he only enjoys “acts” immunity – in other words, immunity covering any acts performed in his official capacity, rather than anything he might or might not have done in a hotel room. I’ve not been able to research this for myself yet – but I’d be surprised if he enjoyed more than “acts” immunity. In any event, both experts agree the IMF board can waive any immunity he may enjoy.
Everything seems to be collapsing around DSK: it seems he may now also face proceedings in France about a previous incident, years ago. He must be presumed innocent of course, but his story shows on a grand scale how merely being accused of a serious offence can turn your life upside down.
It’s difficult to see how he can recover politically from this, even if he’s acquitted. The primaries for the French socialist “nomination” come in October. DSK’s momentum having now been arrested, a woman – either Martine Aubry or Ségolène Royal – may well be the political beneficiary.