Dominique Strauss-Kahn is another Frenchman famous enough to just go by his initials, DSK. For the past three years he has been doing what most consider to be a pretty good job as the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (well, apart from causing a significant tempest over the indiscretion and impropriety of an extra-marital affair with one of his subordinates). He is currently leading the IMF negotiations over European debt problems and the urgent bailout of the Greek economy. He was also widely expected to be the socialist candidate for the presidency in the upcoming French elections.
source: IMF via fotopedia(cc license)
Last night, DSK was taken off an Air France plane at Kennedy Airport in New York, ten minutes before it was scheduled to leave for Paris. He has been charged with attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment for allegedly having sexually assaulted a maid in his $3,000/night Manhattan hotel suite earlier in the day.
Here is what the IMF has to say on the subject:
“IMF Managing Director Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York City. Mr. Strauss-Kahn has retained legal counsel, and the IMF has no comment on the case; all inquiries will be referred to his personal lawyer and to the local authorities.
“The IMF remains fully functioning and operational.”
The details are sordid and are likely to throw a significant wrench into French electoral politics. But I know the real question on your mind is “what about diplomatic immunity?”
That’s a good question. As the head of a major inter-governmental organization (IGO), it is likely that he has some kind of immunity. Unlike for regular ambassadors and other diplomatic personnel, there are not a lot of precedents here. While there has always been talk about rapacious bankers, it hasn’t been meant so literally before. The central issue is going to be whether he has absolute immunity or acts immunity.
Acts immunity only covers actions taken in the course of his official duties. Coming out of your bathroom stark naked and attacking a chambermaid probably doesn’t qualify.
If he has absolute immunity, then the issue arises of who would have the right to waive that immunity. He is a French citizen, so it could be France (as it would be in the case of a crime by the French ambassador). But, if we follow the “necessary intendment” logic of the Reparations Case, it would more likely be the IMF itself. That decision, we presume, would fall to the IMF board, rather than the IMF Managing Director (although that circularity does exist for pure sovereign immunity – only the King can choose to waive immunity for the King).
If it comes to that, the IMF board may be inclined to waive immunity, given the severity of the crime, the significant influence of the U.S. at the IMF, and the fact that this is the second time the bank has been embarrassed by his tabloid escapades.
All Governors, Executive Directors, Alternates, members of committees … advisors of any of the foregoing persons, officers, and employees of the Fund:
(i) shall be immune from legal process with respect to acts performed by them in their official capacity except when the Fund waives this immunity;
That makes it look pretty clearly like acts immunity rather than absolute immunity.
U.S. code in the International Organizations Immunities Act suggests a similarly restricted view on the immunities for the heads of international organizations:
§ 288d. Privileges, exemptions, and immunities of officers, employees, and their families; waiver
(b) Representatives of foreign governments in or to international organizations and officers and employees of such organizations shall be immune from suit and legal process relating to acts performed by them in their official capacity and falling within their functions as such representatives, officers, or employees except insofar as such immunity may be waived by the foreign government or international organization concerned.
(§288d(a) gives such officers the same immunity status as ambassadors, but only in relation to certain situations, such as entering and leaving the country and the like)
The other interesting dimension of this issue is that since France endorses the “active personality” doctrine for jurisdiction over its citizens anywhere in the world, the commission of a serious crime abroad is grounds for prosecution in France as well.
source: web clipping
At this point these are only accusations. But there are two certainties in this developing situation:
1. The French elections are going to be thrown into some turmoil.
2. We can now see that knowing a bit of international law is even important for following the news in the tabloids.