International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn,was ordered off a plane minutes before it was due to fly from New York and charged with the attempted rape of a hotel chambermaid, throwing the eurozone's bailout strategy into chaos.
A former French finance minister and, until yesterday, the overwhelming favourite to win next spring's French presidential election, he was arrested on board an Air France jet at JFK Airport.
A key player in the global response to the 2008 financial crisis and the eurozone bailouts, Mr Strauss-Kahn (62) was charged with attempted rape, sexual assault and unlawful imprisonment of the chambermaid, an employee at an upmarket Manhattan hotel.
He has agreed to undergo DNA tests as part of the investigation.
The IMF last night held an emergency meeting to consider Mr Strauss-Kahn's future and its response to the scandal. Mr Strauss-Kahn's New York lawyer said he would plead not guilty.
Whatever the eventual outcome, the consensus in France yesterday was that Mr Strauss-Kahn's hopes -- as yet undeclared -- of challenging Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency next spring, are dead.
A New York Police Department spokesman, Paul Browne, said the chambermaid claimed Mr Strauss-Kahn had assaulted her after he emerged naked from a bathroom in his $3,000 (€2,100) -a-night suite at the Sofitel Hotel in Times Square on Saturday.
"She told detectives he came out of the bathroom naked, ran down a hallway to the foyer (of the suite) where she was, pulled her into a bedroom and began to sexually assault her, according to her account," Mr Browne said.
"She pulled away from him and he dragged her down a hallway into the bathroom where he engaged in a criminal sexual act, according to her account to detectives. He tried to lock her into the hotel room."
Mr Browne said there were signs Mr Strauss-Kahn had left his suite in a hurry. He had left his mobile phone and other possessions behind him.
"We learnt he was on an Air France plane. They held the plane and he was taken off," Mr Browne said.
Mr Strauss-Kahn's wife, Anne Sinclair, a wealthy TV presenter, dismissed the allegations. "I do not believe for a second the accusations levelled against my husband. I do not doubt his innocence will be established. I appeal for restraint," she said.
Mr Strauss-Kahn, based at the IMF's headquarters in Washington, was flying back to Europe for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on the debt crisis in the eurozone. He was also due to attend an EU finance ministers' meeting in Brussels.
There was little schadenfreude from members of Mr Sarkozy's centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire. It was Mr Sarkozy who campaigned for Mr Strauss-Kahn to be given the top IMF job in 2007, despite warnings his attitude to women might cause difficulties.
Mr Strauss-Kahn was forced to apologise publicly in October 2008 after an affair with a female IMF economist. An investigation cleared him of sexual harassment and abuse of power.
Some of Mr Strauss-Kahn's Socialist colleagues spoke yesterday of a "trap" intended to force what one colleague described as the "notoriously libertine" Mr Strauss-Kahn out of the race. Others said they were shocked and unconvinced by the accusations, but one claimed Mr Strauss-Kahn had long had a reputation as a man who "had difficulty in keeping his hands to himself in the presence of women".
The biggest beneficiary from his political demise may be the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen. Opinion polls suggest that none of the other front-runners for the Socialist nomination could be sure of beating Ms Le Pen in the first round on 22 April next year to reach the two-candidate run-off next May.