Prosecutors get more time in Egyptian's maid case

June 3, 2011 11:26:46 AM PDT
Prosecutors said Friday they wanted more time to investigate before going further with a case against a prominent Egyptian businessman accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid.

Mahmoud Abdel Salam Omar had been scheduled to find out Friday whether he had been indicted, an important legal step in a felony case. But his lawyer, Lori Cohen, agreed to give the Manhattan district attorney's office more time.

"I think the DA's office is doing the right thing by proceeding carefully," she said, "making sure they have all the facts, and that those facts are all actually accurate."

Prosecutors declined to elaborate on their reasons for continuing to investigate the allegations against Omar, the chairman of Egyptian state-run salt production firm El-Mex Salines Co. and a former bank chairman. After five days behind bars, he posted $25,000 bail early Friday and is due back in court Aug. 23.

The case came little more than two weeks after then-International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested on charges of attempting to rape a maid at a different hotel, charges Strauss-Kahn denies. Together, the cases have prompted scrutiny of hotel maids' sometimes risky jobs and put hotels under pressure to respond to the potential dangers.

Omar was arraigned Tuesday on initial charges of sexual abuse and forcible touching in an encounter with a housekeeper at The Pierre, an elegant hotel on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. He was in New York to collect a salt-industry award for El-Mex Salienes, where he has worked since 2009, his previous lawyer said.

Authorities said the 74-year-old businessman called housekeeping for tissues Sunday evening. After a 44-year-old maid arrived with them, he grabbed her, groped her breasts and buttocks, kissed her on the lips and ground his groin against her leg before she ultimately got away, prosecutors said.

"He is entitled to every presumption of innocence," Cohen said Friday.

Besides chairing the salt company, Omar has served as chairman of Egypt's Bank of Alexandria, the Egyptian American Bank and the Federation of Egyptian Banks, according to a biography on his company's website.

For now, he will have to remain in the United States while the case plays out, as he had to surrender his passport.

The maid told a superior immediately that she had been attacked, but the supervisor waited until the following morning to alert the hotel's security director, who then told police. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said the case may be harder to prosecute because of the delay in reporting it.

The hotel has suspended the supervisor and promised to buy "panic buttons" for maids to alert managers if they are attacked. The Sofitel hotel, where Strauss-Kahn was accused of attacking a maid, also has told labor officials it will buy the devices, the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council said.

The union plans to call for panic buttons as part of its contract negotiations with 150 hotels next year, and a state legislator has proposed to require the devices statewide.

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