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Thursday, May 19, 2011

In Europe, a first call for IMF chief Strauss-Kahn to quit


Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands followed Germany and Belgium in calling for any replacement for International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss- Kahn to come from Europe as the euro region contends with a sovereign-debt crisis.

Finance ministers Elena Salgado of Spain, Anders Borg of Sweden and Jan Kees de Jager of the Netherlands today said Europe should retain its traditional right to name the IMF chief, while the U.S. picks the head of the World Bank.

“We are in a very difficult European situation and it’s quite natural that we would have a strong European influence in the IMF,” Borg told reporters in Brussels. “There has been no indication that the Americans are backing down from the managing director of the World Bank or their deputy managing director position at the fund. If there should be some dancing here, there should be at least two who are part of the tango.”

Speculation about a replacement for Strauss-Kahn began after his May 14 arrest in New York on sexual-assault charges. A Manhattan judge yesterday ordered him held without bail. Strauss-Kahn, a 62-year-old former French finance minister, stands accused of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape a hotel housekeeper. He has denied the accusations and will plead not guilty, his lawyer said.

Strauss-Kahn, who was refused bail on Monday and is being held in a New York jail, has denied the charges.

IMF board officials said there was a push by some countries for a speedy resolution to Strauss-Kahn's future as head of the fund, while others cautioned against judging him too quickly.

China's Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the charges against Strauss-Kahn, but a spokeswoman, asked about how IMF leaders are chosen, said: "We believe that this should be based on the principles of fairness, transparency and merit."

It was the first time China has weighed in early and so publicly in the IMF selection debate.

All 10 managing directors to have run the fund since it was created after the World War Two have been Europeans, including four Frenchmen, the most recent of them Strauss-Kahn.

IMF experts and analysts have said that if Strauss-Kahn resigns soon, it may force countries to maintain the status quo and choose a European. Throwing open the process may take longer at a time when the job needs to be quickly filled.

He is finished. Nobody thinks he will be back. People are just shocked,” said an IMF economist who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A New York judge denied Strauss-Kahn bail Monday after a short hearing. His attorney had said he would stay in New York with his daughter to await trial. But prosecutors described him as a flight risk. He was transferred Monday night to Rikers, the standard holding facility for people held without bail while awaiting trial. New York City officials said he would be in protective custody for his own safety.

The IMF’s second-in-command, John Lipsky, has been named acting managing director. At a Monday morning “pep rally,” he urged agency staff members to go about their business and to stay focused on global economic and financial problems.

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