The weekend arrest of International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn for alleged sex assault in New York City has his right-wing political opponents calling for blood in France where the once-likely presidential frontrunner has damaged his home country's image abroad and possibly his own political viability.
The Frenchman has been charged with two counts of criminal sexual act in the first degree, one count of attempted rape, sexual abuse in the first degree, unlawful imprisonment, sexual abuse in the third degree and forcible touching.
Strauss-Kahn is a leading member of the Socialist Party of France, the main left-wing political opposition to French President Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right UMP party. The length of the United States justice process might preclude Strauss-Kahn from starting a political campaign in time for the Socialist Party primaries.
"He was at the head of the 2012 presidential field," Pascal Virot, the head of domestic political news for the French newspaper Libération, told ABC News, translated from French. "He was currently the clear winner in a Socialist Party primary campaign, and the only Socialist who had a chance to beat Sarkozy, according to recent polls."
Although he has yet to commit to run in the next French presidential elections in November 2012, an April poll of likely French voters by Paris Match-Europe 1 had him leading current president Nicolas Sarkozy by 7 percentage points in a run-off election.
"The right is already denouncing DSK for having tarnished the image of France abroad," Virot said.
That the alleged assault happened in the United States, a constant punching bag in the French media, has magnified the feeling of embarrassment for many French people.
"No one here thinks he can run for the French presidency anymore," Paris resident Virginie Hammel, 32, told ABC News, translated from French.
Conspiracy Theories Abound
Strauss-Kahn told Liberation a few weeks ago that he could see himself being set up for a "honey trap" to tarnish his reputation ahead of the election in 2012.
He said his opponents would attack his "money, women and Jewishness," in that order. He said at the time that his biggest challenge was fighting the public perception that he is a womanizer.
Strauss-Kahn is a father of four and is married to his third wife, American-born French television journalist Anne Sinclair.
"I do not believe for a single second the accusations leveled against my husband," Sinclair said in a statement translated from French.
She is appealing for "restraint and decency" while investigations take place.
This incident is not her husband's first brush with controversy during his tenure.
Strauss-Kahn had an affair with a Hungarian economist in 2008 and later admitted he made an "error of judgment." For years he has had a reputation in France as a ladies' man, and has been nicknamed "the great seducer."
"Yes, I love women ... so what? [...] For years we talk about giant pictures of orgies," Strauss-Kahn told Liberation April 28. "But I've never seen anything out ... Let show them [the pictures]."
France Closely Watching Strauss-Kahn Arrest
Political allies have also sought to defend Strauss-Kahn by saying the manner in which the news of his arrest was leaked in France points to a conspiracy. A young UMP supporter named Jonathan Piney was the first to tweet news of the arrest Sunday, writing (translated from French), "a friend in the United States just told me that #DSK was arrested by police at a hotel in NYC an hour ago."
Since then, French Twitter has been filled with tweets from people who say that the news was reported first by a UMP supporter points to a wide conspiracy to discredit Strauss-Kahn.
"The situation is still very fluid, we don't know what will happen," Virot of Liberation.
A New York City judge denied bail to Strauss-Kahn today before sending him to jail until Friday, calling him a flight risk despite arguments to the contrary by his high-powered defense team.