PARIS (Reuters) - French officials on Sunday publicly backed International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is facing an investigation into whether he abused his position in an affair with a subordinate.
But French newspapers reported that in private President Nicolas Sarkozy, who put Strauss-Kahn forward for the job, and the IMF boss’s Socialist Party were embarrassed about the case and concerned for France’s image abroad.
In France, the private lives of public figures are often considered to be off-limits and several officials also speculated about the motivation behind bringing the case at a time of financial crisis.
“Dominique Strauss-Kahn showed all the way through this crisis that he was on top of things,” government spokesman Luc Chatel said on Radio J.
Strauss-Kahn also won support from Jean-Claude Trichet, the Frenchman who is president of the European Central Bank. In a radio interview on Sunday Trichet that he was convinced the IMF chief would be cleared of any abuse power.
But the Journal du Dimanche newspaper said Sarkozy, who met President George W. Bush on Saturday in Washington to discuss reforming the international financial system, was “grim faced” when the story was mentioned.
The Journal du Dimanche and the Parisien said Strauss-Kahn’s Socialist allies were embarrassed about the affair.
The IMF said on Saturday it was investigating whether Strauss-Kahn abused his power in an affair with Piroska Nagy, a former senior economist at the IMF’s Africa division.
Her lawyer said she was not given preferential treatment before leaving the IMF in August.
Several countries have turned to the IMF for financing to help them through the financial crisis and politicians are considering its role in preventing future crises.
Some in France said the investigation was linked to Strauss-Kahn’s views on the financial crisis.
“There could also be a certain will to destabilize him,” Jean-Marie Le Guen, a Socialist deputy, said, suggesting that his view on tight regulation could have angered some.
The investigation was ordered by Shakour Shaalan, head of the IMF’s 24-member board.
Others hinted at domestic political motives.
“It’s an incident of life of such astonishing banality and we want to make it a big political scandal. I think there is something fishy going on,” Socialist deputy Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said on LCI television.
In a poll last week, 60 percent of French people said Sarkozy was managing the crisis well, but 25 percent said Strauss-Kahn would do better.
The former French finance minister made an unsuccessful attempt to be the presidential candidate for his party in the 2007 election.
Strauss-Kahn’s wife Anne Sinclair, a high-profile television interviewer, said on her blog (www.annesinclair.fr) that while she did not want to talk about her private life she wanted to put an end to “malicious rumors.”
“For my part, this one night stand is now behind us; we have turned the page,” she wrote.
Editing by Jon Boyle