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Laura Noonan: DSK's shadow looms large as debt talks take back seat

SEX and scandal aren't words you'd usually associate with monthly meetings of the EU's finance ministers. But then yesterday's Brussels meeting will probably go down as one of the most extraordinarily badly timed gatherings in European history.

The crunch meeting to sort out Greece's increasingly precarious debt situation had expected to look to IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Khan for guidance, since DSK, as he goes by in these climes, was intimately involved in the original Greek bailout.

Instead, DSK's journey from New York was dramatically cut short when he was hauled off his Berlin-bound plane and arrested for allegedly attempting to rape a Manhattan hotel maid.

So when European Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio took to the pulpit at yesterday morning's press conference, the press had far juicier things on their minds than Greek debt restructuring.

In short, all anyone really wanted to know about was DSK. Against a barrage of questions, Mr Tardio's response was emphatic.

"I would like to reassure public opinion, the markets and the press, there's absolutely no question: decisions which are under way will not be impacted and this will not have an impact on the programmes being applied," he said.

But the reassurance did nothing to quench the insatiable interest in the events of the past few days.

When European finance ministers arrived for their afternoon meeting, the shadow of DSK loomed large.

Yes, journalists asked the usual (and almost mandatory) questions about debt restructuring, future bailouts and all that dreadfully serious and important stuff.

But DSK was never far from anyone's mind, captivating the financial press here.

One by one, politicians were asked for the tuppence worth. Most of them deftly refused to comment.

But, as is always the case, a few were willing to put their heads above the parapet.

Belgian finance minister Didiers Reynders tried to give the IMF boss the benefit of fair process.

"We've heard what the New York police have to say, now in the next few hours and days we have to hear his (DSK's) version of events," he said.

Germany's finance chief Wolfgang Schaeuble played down the importance of the IMF boss's absence, saying the IMF was "so well organised it can cope with the temporary absence of its chief".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel diplomatically said the question of DSK's successor was "not a question for today" but that there were good reasons for supporting a European candidate.

The smart money is on a European candidate to fill DSK's shoes, but then a week ago, the smart money would have been on DSK spending this week in Brussels as a financial demigod, rather than in New York on charges including attempted rape.

In the world of global finance, it seems there are no certainties left.

Irish Independent