Strauss-Kahn, former IMF boss, cleared of prostitution charges

A French court cleared Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former head of the International Monetary Fund, of pimping charges.

Three judges of the Correctional Tribunal of the northern French city of Lille determined Friday that Strauss-Kahn, who is Jewish, did not promote or profit from the prostitution of seven women as prosecutors charged based on police investigations that began in 2011 into an alleged prostitution network at Lille’s smart Hotel Carlton.

Strauss-Kahn, who resigned from the IMF following allegations of sex crimes, said he has sought “recreation” from the stress of world politics by having rough sex with strangers at orgies in Europe and the United States, but he denied any knowledge of the women’s employment as sex workers, AFP reported.

The judges said there was no proof he knew that some of the women he had sex with at orgies were prostitutes. Throughout his trial, he maintained that he had not known that some of the partners brought to him by business friends at group-sex sessions had been paid, saying he thought they were merely “swingers” like himself. The businessmen told the women who had sex with Strauss-Kahn not to say they had been paid.

Strauss-Kahn’s name came up during interrogations conducted by police with others implicated in the prostitution ring. The trial focused international attention on the sex life of Strauss-Kahn, who was married at the time. His ex-wife, Anne Sinclair, divorced him in 2013 following his investigation and indictment. Strauss-Kahn, a Socialist, was once considered a leading candidate for the French presidency.

Two sex workers said Strauss-Kahn forced them to have anal sex with him. He said he penetrated them consensually.

In New York, a hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo, complained in 2011 that Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her, but prosecutors dropped criminal charges after investigating her claims. Strauss-Kahn settled a civil action with her out of court. Fabrice Paszkowski, 47, who was a close friend of Strauss-Kahn, was also cleared on pimping charges, as was David Roquet, a building contractors who also attended orgies with Strauss-Kahn. Also cleared was Jean-Christophe Lagarde, 50, a Lille police chief.

Egypt’s army chief calls for mass demonstrations

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Egypt’s military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi today called for mass rallies on Friday to give him a mandate to confront violence. Coming three weeks after the army deposed Mohamed Morsi, the call puts pressure on Islamists, who vow they will continue to fight for Morsi to be reinstated.

Morsi supporters said they would also go out into the streets on Friday, which could lead to possible violence. Since Morsi’s overthrow some 100 Egyptians have been killed in fighting between the two groups. In the most recent clashes, at least nine Morsi supporters were killed when police opened fire on some 1000 people at a sit-in near Cairo University.

Al-Sisi said that Morsi was being held in a secure location for his own safety. In a press conference this week, Morsi’s son Osama said the family has not heard from Mohamed Morsi since he was overthrown. He also said he will sue Al-Sisi in the International Criminal Court.

Egypt has been rocked by huge protests in the past month. On June 30 some 17 million people took to the streets to demand Morsi resign. Many say he has failed to lead Egypt to real democracy and has pushed through a draft constitution that favors Islamists.

Al-Sisi was a member of the military council that ruled Egypt for 16 months after long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down. At that time, he was the chief of military intelligence. Morsi named him defense minister and military chief almost a year ago. He also repeated his promise that parliamentary elections will be held next year.

Morsi supporters say they will continue to use peaceful means to have their leader reinstated.

“I will not fight to regain my vote that was taken away,” Bahaa Mohammed, an Egyptian soldier told The Media Line. “I hear the rumors that we are aggressive, and terrorists, but really we’re just patient people. They [referring to anti-Morsi activists] are brain washed by the opposition media which is run by the sons and relatives of the corrupt Mubarak regime.”

In violence this week, at least 11 people were killed at Cairo University. Violence has also increased in the Sinai Peninsula, with frequent attacks on police there. The army says it has launched a crackdown to restore its control over Sinai.

Last week, four women – all supporters of Morsi — were killed in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura.

“The thugs were military and police dressed in civilian cloth or real thugs who are paid and drugged to commit such terrible actions.” Said Sonia the spokeswoman of the Committee to Protect Women told The Media Line.

The ongoing violence has divided Egyptians over the future of their country. Egypt was seen as a model of peaceful transition when Hosni Mubarak stepped down. A military coalition took over and paved the way for democratic elections.

But in the last few weeks, fears have grown that violence could spread among Egypt’s 85 million people, many of whom live in poverty. A growing economic crisis is exacerbating tensions. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has postponed finalizing a $4 billion loan to Egypt because of the tensions although Qatar has given money to keep the country afloat,.

While some welcome the military’s intervention into Egypt’s politics, others, even non-Morsi supporters, worried that the military presence could become permanent.

“I am with Morsi now more than before even though I didn’t vote for him, Said Mohamed Taher, a taxi driver told The Media Line. “I feel that legitimacy and democracy were stolen by the military.”

Morsi supporters also say that soldiers are defecting from the army and joining their ranks.

“The people who are killed in the protests have relatives in the army and police, and when one man dies, the whole family [tribe] comes out and tries to seek revenge,” Mohamed al-Amir, a pro-Morsi activist. “Now the soldiers do not want to attack protestors. I have information that when soldiers go visit their families, they are not coming back to the service.”

Egypt army seeks national unity as crisis mounts

Egypt's army chief called for talks on national unity to end the country's mounting political crisis after a vital loan from the IMF was delayed and thousands of pro- and anti-government demonstrators took to the streets.

The meeting scheduled for Wednesday afternoon was called in response to an increasingly destabilizing series of protests that has unfolded since President Mohamed Morsi awarded himself sweeping powers on November 22 to push through a new constitution shaped by his Islamist allies in a referendum on Saturday.

Armed forces chief and Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for a meeting of “national unity for the love of Egypt to bring together partners of the country in the presence of the president of the republic”, the army spokesman said.

An aide said Morsi had supported the call for talks. The Muslim Brotherhood said it would be there, while the main opposition coalition said it would decide on Wednesday morning whether to attend.

Earlier, the finance minister disclosed that a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan, a cornerstone of Egypt's economic recovery hopes, would be delayed until next month.

Mumtaz al-Said said the delay was intended to allow time to explain a widely criticized package of economic austerity measures to the Egyptian people.

The announcement came after Morsi on Monday backed down on planned tax rises, seen as essential for the loan to go ahead, but which the opposition had fiercely criticized.

“Of course the delay will have some economic impact, but we are discussing necessary measures (to address that) during the coming period,” Said told Reuters, adding: “I am optimistic … everything will be well, God willing.”

Prime Minister Hisham Kandil said the measures would not hurt the poor. Bread, sugar and rice would not be touched, but cigarettes and cooking oil would go up and fines would be imposed for public littering. In a bid to rebuild consensus, he said there would be a public consultation about the program next week.

In Washington, the IMF said Egypt had asked for the loan to be postponed “in light of the unfolding developments on the ground”. The Fund stood ready to consult with Egypt on resuming discussions on the stand-by loan, a spokeswoman said.


On the streets of the capital, tensions ran high after nine people were hurt when gunmen fired at protesters camping in Tahrir Square, according to witnesses and Egyptian media.

The opposition has called for major protests it hopes will force Morsi to postpone the referendum. Thousands gathered outside the presidential palace, whose walls are scrawled with anti-Morsi graffiti.

A bigger crowd of flag-waving Islamist Morsi backers, who want the vote to go ahead as planned on Saturday, assembled at a nearby mosque, setting the stage for further street confrontations in a crisis that has divided the nation of 83 million.

In Egypt's second city of Alexandria, thousands of rival demonstrators gathered at separate venues. Morsi's backers chanted: “The people want implementation of Islamic law,” while his opponents shouted: “The people want to bring down the regime.” Others cities also witnessed protests.

The upheaval following the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year is causing concern in the West, in particular the United States, which has given Cairo billions of dollars in military and other aid since Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, made peace with Israel in 1979.

The turmoil has also placed a big strain on the economy, sending foreign currency reserves down to about $15 billion, less than half what they were before the revolt two years ago as the government has sought to defend the pound.

“Given the current policy environment, it's hardly a surprise that there's been a delay, but it is imperative that the delay is brief,” said Simon Williams, HSBC economist in Dubai. “Egypt urgently needs that IMF accord, both for the funding it brings and the policy anchor it affords.”

The IMF deal had been seen as giving a seal of approval to investors and donors about the government's economic plans, vital for drawing more cash into the economy to ease a crushing budget deficit and stave off a balance of payments crisis.


In central Cairo, police cars surrounded Tahrir Square in central Cairo, the first time they had appeared in the area since shortly after Morsi awarded himself sweeping temporary powers in a move that touched off widespread protests.

The attackers, some masked, also threw petrol bombs that started a small fire, witnesses said.

“The masked men came suddenly and attacked the protesters in Tahrir. The attack was meant to deter us and prevent us from protesting today,” said John Gerges, a Christian Egyptian who described himself as a socialist.

The latest bout of unrest has so far claimed seven lives in clashes between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and opponents who gathered outside Morsi's presidential palace.

The Republican Guard, which protects the palace, has yet to use force to keep protesters away from the building, now ringed with tanks, barbed wire and concrete barricades.

The army has told all sides to resolve their differences through dialogue, saying it would not allow Egypt to enter a “dark tunnel”. For the period of the referendum, the army has been granted powers by Morsi allowing it to arrest civilians.

In statement issued after rights groups criticized the army's new police powers, the presidency said anyone arrested by the military during the referendum would face civil rather than military courts. It said the army's new role would only last until results are declared after Saturday's referendum.

The army has portrayed itself as the guarantor of the nation's security, but so far it has shown no appetite for a return to the bruising front-line political role it played after the fall of Mubarak, which severely damaged its standing.


Leftists, liberals and other opposition groups say the hastily arranged constitutional referendum is polarizing the country and could put it in a religious straitjacket.

Opposition leaders want the referendum to be delayed and hope they can get sufficiently large numbers of protesters on the streets to change Morsi's mind.

The main association of Egypt's judiciary, the Judges' Club, voted against supervising the referendum, but the Islamists are confident they can muster enough judges to make sure the vote goes ahead with the necessary judicial supervision.

Islamists have urged their followers to show support for Morsi and for a referendum they feel sure of winning.

The opposition says the draft constitution fails to embrace the diversity of the population, a tenth of which is Christian, and invites Muslim clerics to influence lawmaking.

Additional reporting by Tamim Elyan; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Peter Graff and Will Waterman

Middle Eastern farmers bearing the brunt of plunging olive oil prices

The price for olive oil has dropped to its lowest level in a decade and farmers in the Middle East are bearing the brunt as Spain and Italy dump their government-subsidized stocks at below cost.

“The international market prices are going below sustainable levels,” Nasser Abu Farha, the director of Canaan Fair Trade that works with some 1,500 Palestinian farmers, told The Media Line.

The price of olive oil fell to about $2,920 per ton this month, about half of the peak price of $5,850 in 2006, according to IMF data. While the plunging olive oil prices are hitting the ailing economies of Spain, Italy and Greece, the world’s largest producers of olive oil, they are ricocheting across the Levant, too.

“There is a great deal of consolidation of the olive oil market in Spain and Italy so that the bulk of the olive oil industry is controlled by very few hands,” Abu Farha said. “These giant companies pool most of the Mediterranean olive oil and this gives them a lot of leverage on the price.”

Adi Naali, olive oil division manager of Israel’s Plant Council, said that the dumping was threatening to destroy the local olive industry.

“There is a catastrophic flood of cheap oil from Europe which is threatening the future of the olive famers in Israel,” Naali told The Media Line. “A farmer can sustain a loss for a year or so, but over time they can’t and we fear they will start uprooting their groves.”

About 95% of the world’s olive trees are in the Mediterranean region. Olive oil is so well liked and is such an integral part of the cuisine that according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Mediterranean basin countries also account for 77% of the world’s consumption.

But elsewhere around the world, olive oil consumption has dramatically risen over the past decade – largely due to the popularity of the “Mediterranean diet.” World olive oil consumption reached 2.98 million tons last year, a 3.7 % increase from 2009.

Olive oil producers have also started focusing their exports on non-traditional markets, particularly China, India and Japan.  China increased its import of olive oil by 62% in 2011, but most of the imports came from European countries.

“There was the expectation that every Chinaman would start drinking a spoon of olive oil a day, and the Indians too. That’s a lot of oil, and it is happening, but at a lower pace than expected,” Na’ali said.

The Europeans are now overstocked with olive oil and are trying to clear out their stocks by lowering prices.

“It’s harming us greatly,” Ayala Noymeir, who owns a mill producing organic olive oil in northern Israel, told The Media Line. “The major food chains [in Israel] are importing cheap oil from abroad and are selling it at rock bottom prices. They’re forcing us to get rid of our stocks at below cost.”

Noymeir said that the Europeans were able to dump their products cheaply because they were buffered by a subsidy from the European Union. Israeli customs aimed at protecting local farmers were not high enough to prevent the market from being flooded by the cheap oils from abroad.

“The problem is that when a housewife comes to the supermarket and compares prices, they are inclined to take the lower one, even if it’s lesser quality,” said Micha Noymeir, head of the family business of Rish Lekish, an organic olive mill in Tzippori.

But Abu Farha of Canaan Fair Trade said he believes there was room for prosperity in the olive oil specialty markets. They work with 1,500 Palestinian farmers from over 40 villages in the northern West Bank to produce olive oil, herbs and tahini. They supply major international retailers including Whole Foods in the U.S. and Sainsbury in Britain.

“The farmers who are escaping the impact of this are farmers who producing connoisseur-type specialty oils, like the farmers that we are working with, or farmers who are organized into fair trade and organic production.”

“We give the farmer a sustainable minimum regardless of the fluctuating of market prices. We give them a safety net of a minimum sustainable price, but we sell to like-minded companies in the West in Europe and North America who are willing to pay a premium on the olive oil prices when market prices are going low,” he said.

He said that olive oil production is a $200 million business in the Palestinian Authority and that it supports some 200,000 families. He said a lot of farmers who are outside their network were suffering since they have been sitting on their supplies waiting for the price to go up and a new harvest season was fast approaching.

“I see the price is going to stay low for the next couple of years, but one thing we are happy about is that we are able to sustain the $6 per-liter for our farmers at the time that it is below $3 in the market place,” Abu Farha said.

In Israel, efforts are underway to increase consumption in order to boost sales. According to the Plants Council, annual Israeli olive oil consumption is about two kilos per capita, substantially less than the 24 kilos the average Greek consumes annually.

“There was a sense that competition would be good and bring cheaper prices for the consumer but what is happening is that they are forcing the local olive farmer out of business and after that happens the importers will raise the prices,” Na’ali said.

“The Europeans are dumping their stocks and the whole market is flooded which is putting people like the Noymeirs and other farmers on the kibbutzim and in the Arab villages out of business.”

The Plant Council recently issued a quality-control sticker for Israeli olive oil which they hope will bring public confidence to the locally-made, high-quality extra virgin oils and boost sales.

Police question Strauss-Kahn in French assault case

UPDATE: [1:10 p.m.] Strauss-Kahn was immune from civil suit under international law when suit was filed, his lawyers say.

Monday, Sept. 12
Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was questioned by French police on Monday over a complaint of attempted rape, filed after his May arrest in New York in a separate sex assault case that forced him to resign but was later dropped.

Tristane Banon, a journalist and writer some 30 years his junior, says Strauss-Kahn assaulted her in 2003 in a Paris apartment where he had invited her to interview him for a book she was writing.

The former IMF chief, once seen as a favorite to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy for the French presidency, returned to France after U.S. prosecutors dropped charges last month that he tried to rape a hotel maid.

He was questioned by Paris police for about three hours before leaving the station around 0900 (GMT) in a car without making any comment to journalists.

His French lawyers said in a statement that Strauss-Kahn, who has yet to make any public comment since returning to his Paris home, had asked to be heard by police as soon as scheduling allowed.

Other high profile witnesses, including Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande, have been questioned by police in the case to determine whether they had any knowledge of Banon’s allegations.

One issue is whether her allegations against Strauss-Kahn amount to attempted rape or sexual assault. In France the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases is three years, versus ten years for attempted rape.

Reporting by Nicolas Bertin and Thierry Leveque; Writing by Nick Vinocur; Editing by Peter Graff

Fischer candidacy to head IMF disqualified

Stanley Fischer, the governor of the Bank of Israel, will not be considered a candidate to lead the International Monetary Fund because of his age.

Fischer was notified Monday night that his announced candidacy for the position was disqualified since he is 67, and IMF rules state that the IMF Managing Director must be under 65 when taking office for the five-year position. Fischer had hoped that the IMF board would waive the restriction, saying it is “not relevant today.”

Fischer is in the second year of his second five-year term as the head of Israel’s central bank. He had hoped to fill the position vacated by Dominique Strauss-Kahn of France, who resigned after his arrest on May 14 on charges of attempted rape of a maid in a New York hotel.

“I will proudly and happily continue in my role as Governor of the Bank of Israel, to deal with the challenges facing the Bank of Israel and the Israeli economy. I would like to thank the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance for their unconditional support when I decided to submit my candidacy, and for their expressed hope that I will continue to serve as the Governor of the Bank of Israel – as I shall happily do,” Fischer said in a statement.

Fischer is a former deputy managing director of the IMF. He also was the thesis adviser to Ben Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, when he was pursuing his doctorate in economics from MIT.

Fischer, a native of Zambia who holds Israeli citizenship, has been widely credited with helping Israel’s economy weather the global financial crisis.

Christine Lagarde, the finance minister of France, is considered the front-runner in the IMF race. A decision is scheduled to be made by the end of the month.

Opinion: Groping in the Dark

The swirl of news about the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) former managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was accused recently of sexually assaulting a chambermaid in his expensive Sofitel hotel suite, contains another juicy nugget of information. Strauss-Kahn is Jewish. His wife is Jewish. In fact, Strauss-Kahn was born, like many French Jews, to a Sephardic mother from Tunisia. He participates in public Jewish life. He does not hide his Jewishness. Should we?

Well, that’s what many people right now would like to do. When we read about a Jew connected to a public exploit of a criminal nature — be it a rape, Ponzi scheme or Medicare fraud — most of us cringe and wish we somehow weren’t ethnically or genetically connected. When breaking news of crime is exposed, our knee-jerk impulse is to pray that whoever is involved isn’t Jewish.

Sadly, in the past few years, we have become used to seeing more Jews exposed for white-collar crimes in the news. And in some pathetic and ironic way, we’ve managed to unify Jews under the same banner — from Reform to Satmar Chasidim, Syrians and Ashkenazim, Jews from Chicago and Jews from Australia. What has brought us together? Crime. How else to explain a joke that took a spin in cyberspace recently: “The Top 10 Signs Your Rabbi Was Indicted.” These included, 1) your synagogue charity auction now includes “kidney,” 2) your rebbetzin is suddenly on JDate, and 3) the rabbi’s sermon comes in the form of an affidavit.

But if you have nothing to do with Strauss-Kahn, Bernard Madoff or any other member of the criminal glitterati other than share a religion, why should you care?

We do care, and we care for the same reason that when a Jew wins a Nobel Peace Prize, we take just a smidgen of credit for it, and when a popular celebrity announces he or she is Jewish, we stand a little taller. We are connected by a mysterious bond called peoplehood, a psychic sense that we are part of an extended family with deep historical roots and a moral and spiritual vision. This is not something we give explicit voice to, but it is something many of us feel deep down in our kishkes (gut).

It’s the quiet nod of recognition we give to a woman in a grocery checkout line with a Star of David around her neck. It is the subtle intimacy we experience as a minority people who are experts at the world’s most boring game: Jewish geography. We play it because six degrees of separation is way too many. Six one-hundredths is a lot more comfortable. After all, it’s a hostile world out there. You need to know who your family is.

Yet, just like we’re not proud of every member of our family, we put up with those criminal few (yes, it is only a few) who need to zip up their pants, get a better accountant or have a time-out from Wall Street. The downside of peoplehood is that just like we may feel psychically connected to strangers merely because they are Jewish, we are also connected to Jews who commit crimes in the public eye.

The ancient rabbis shared this worry and created the term ma’arit ayin (literally, what the eye sees) to help people model moral excellence everywhere lest others observe spiritually contradictory behaviors and assign them to the Jewish people as a whole. This falls under a larger legal rubric of Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God’s name. When a Jew in the public eye is morally upstanding, we all bask in his or her light. When a Jew in the public eye tries to rape a woman who is powerless, we squirm.

This is not the same as the Yiddish expression, a shandah for the goyim. When we adjust our behavior because of self-conscious modeling, we do so for the sake of righteousness and goodness. When we worry about being a shandah for the goyim, we care less about what we do and more about what we look like. It’s like being caught in a perp walk but worried that you forgot to put on lipstick. It’s an ethically superficial way of moving in the universe.

Are these just isolated cases of a few Jews gone bad or are they symptomatic of something much darker that we’re not willing to confront? I’d like to believe the former. I’d like to believe that Jewish affluence and influence in the world has presented us with new/old challenges. If we want to make a difference on the global stage, be it in economics, research or politics, then we must move with the ancient weight of Isaiah’s teachings, “Learn to do good.” Goodness is not assumed. It is taught. It must be taught and reinforced in our synagogues and schools and adult education programs. It is not a given.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s Jewishness may not have even crossed his mind as he acted, but his Judaism was not something detached from his identity when others reported his alleged crime. We, the Jewish public, all pay some small psychic cost in pride for the acts of strangers. It’s the price we pay for being in the same family, whether we want to or not. If it is the label others give us, then perhaps it’s time to have a difficult family conversation about raising the ethical bar. After all, when it comes to the reputation of the Jewish people, we’re all stakeholders.

Erica Brown serves as the scholar-in-residence for The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Her latest book is “In the Narrow Places” (OU/Maggid). She also wrote “Confronting Scandal” (Jewish Lights) and can be reached at

Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigns from IMF

Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned as managing director of the International Monetary Fund following his arrest and imprisonment on charges of sexual assault.

In a statement dated Wednesday on the IMF website, the popular left-leaning political figure expected to run for French president in 2012 said, “it is with infinite sadness that I feel compelled today to present to the Executive Board my resignation from my post of Managing Director of the IMF.”

Strauss-Kahn was taken off of a Paris-bound flight at Kennedy International Airport on May 14, and arrested on charges of assaulting a maid in his New York City hotel room that day.

In the statement, Strauss-Kahn said, “I think at this time first of my wife—whom I love more than anything—of my children, of my family, of my friends.”

He also claimed his innocence.

“I deny with the greatest possible firmness all of the allegations that have been made against me. I want to protect this institution which I have served with honor and devotion, and especially—especially—I want to devote all my strength, all my time, and all my energy to proving my innocence,” said the statement.

Recent polls repeatedly showed that Strauss-Kahn was considered more popular than current French president Nicolas Sarkozy, and the most likely opponent to unseat him in the next election.  Bloggers and pundits even mused on the fact that France might be led by a Jewish president, if Strauss-Kahn were voted into office.

John Lipsky remains acting managing director of the IMF, while speculation continues on a possible replacement. Finance minister to Sarkozy, Christine Lagarde, is a favored contender. She is the former head of the Chicago-based law firm Baker & McKenzie, and lived in the United States for over 20 years. Stanley Fisher, governor of the Bank of Israel, has also been suggested.

Fischer on the money as top bank chief

Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer was named the central bank governor of the year.

Fischer received the award from Euromoney magazine, which has been honoring the world’s best bank governors and finance ministers for more than 30 years, at a World Bank and International Monetary Fund annual meeting Sunday in Washington.

Fischer was recognized for successfully leading Israel’s economy through the global economic crisis.

“Israel’s stamina in a time of financial crisis and its aftermath prove that Fischer is worthy of the respect he gets from the financial community,” according to the magazine.

Fischer, a native of Rhodesia, was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1977 to 1988, and served as vice president of development economics and chief economist at the World Bank from 1988 to 1990. He became Israel’s central bank chief in 2005.