Exclusive: Sofitel waited hour to report crime: source

NEW YORK Thu May 19, 2011 5:19am EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York investigators are questioning why the Sofitel hotel in New York waited an hour to call police after International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn left the hotel in a hurry on Saturday following an alleged sexual assault of a chambermaid.

A law enforcement source told Reuters that investigators believe that the Sofitel maid entered Strauss-Kahn's penthouse suite shortly after midday.

By 12:29 p.m. or 12:30 p.m., hotel video and witness accounts show that Strauss-Kahn left the hotel without visiting the front desk to check out, and he hailed a New York "Yellow Cab" taxi. Investigators believe the maid almost immediately reported the alleged assault to several other members of the hotel staff, the source said.

The hotel's first call to a police emergency number was received at 1:32 p.m, according to official reports cited by the law enforcement source who spoke to Reuters. During the 911 call, hotel security said they wanted to report an alleged sexual assault. The first police units arrived at the hotel 13 minutes later, the source said.

There are at least two explanations for why the hotel waited an hour to phone police, the law enforcement source said.

One possibility is that the alleged victim was so upset, and her report of mistreatment so startling, that it took managers an hour before they felt comfortable alerting authorities about her claims.

An alternative explanation, which the law enforcement source said police currently believe is more plausible, is that management of the French-owned hotel were reluctant to rush to report damaging allegations against such a prominent Frenchman.

Strauss-Kahn, currently held in a grim jail at Rikers Island in New York on charges of attempted rape and sexual assault, is not only the IMF chief, but was also a front-runner for the French presidency before his arrest.

The law enforcement source said the issue is still under investigation. Officials at the Sofitel in New York were not immediately available for comment.

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Also still under investigation is what Strauss-Kahn did in the four-hour period between what police say appears to have been his hasty exit from the hotel and the moment when Port Authority police officers, who patrol New York's John F. Kennedy airport, boarded his Paris-bound aircraft, located Strauss-Kahn's first-class seat, and asked him to step off the plane.

In a new bail application filed with an appeal court on Wednesday, lawyers for Strauss-Kahn said their client checked out of the Sofitel at 12:28 p.m. and headed to a previously scheduled lunch "a few blocks away" at around 12:45 p.m. Police have yet to fully verify Strauss-Kahn's movements, the source told Reuters.

The law enforcement source said investigators believe that Strauss-Kahn at 3:30 p.m. phoned the Sofitel, presumably from the airport, and asked if he had left anything at the hotel.

Police at the hotel requested that Sofitel personnel ask Strauss-Kahn to tell them where he was and to tell him that they had his cell phone and would bring it to him. Instead, New York Police arranged with the Port Authority to have Strauss-Kahn's plane held at the gate until detectives arrived.

At the request of New York police, Port Authority officers boarded the aircraft shortly around 4:30 p.m. and quietly asked Strauss-Kahn to disembark. Once off the plane, the IMF chief was turned over to detectives, who handcuffed him and took him in an unmarked police car to a police station in the Harlem area of Manhattan, which houses specialists who investigate alleged sex crimes.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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