Strauss-Kahn is a member of France's Socialist Party, and was widely expected to challenge President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's elections.
Local media reports say the 32-year-old chambermaid entered Strauss-Kahn’s suite at the Sofitel hotel believing it to be empty and was assaulted when the IMF chief came out of the shower naked.
Police sources say Strauss-Kahn left the hotel room in a hurry leaving behind his mobile phone and other personal effects.
The International Monetary Fund in Washington declined to comment.
Several opinion polls in France published before news of his arrest indicated Strauss-Kahn would defeat Sarkozy if he were to run with 26 per cent of the vote.
Strauss-Kahn is not due to officially leave the helm of the IMF in Washington until September 2012 several months after the scheduled date of France’s vote. But there has been speculation that he would leave the post early to stand as the Socialist Party’s candidate.
This is not the first time the IMF chief has been tainted by scandal.
In 2008, he was found to be having an affair with an Hungarian economist at the IMF. The affair was investigated by the IMF which found he had not exerted pressure on the woman, but had acted inappropriately.