PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy challenged former IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Saturday to take legal action over his allegation that "political enemies" scuppered his presidential bid last year by ensuring his sexual encounter with a New York maid was made public.
Strauss-Kahn, who was the runaway favorite for the Socialist party's presidential nomination before his arrest last May on sexual abuse charges, told London's Guardian newspaper he was convinced his political downfall was choreographed by his political enemies.
The Guardian's website said that while Strauss-Kahn does not believe his opponents set up the encounter with hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo, he believes operatives linked to Sarkozy played a role in making sure that she went to the police, sparking a major international scandal.
"I say to Mr Strauss-Kahn, explain yourself with judicial authorities and spare the French people your comments," Sarkozy told a rally in the central French town of Clermont-Ferrand ahead of next weekend's presidential second round.
"In the midst of an electoral campaign, Mr Strauss-Kahn starts to give morality lessons and indicate that I am the one responsible for what happened to him, it's too much!"
Amid frustration at economic stagnation and with unemployment running at a 12-year high, Sarkozy trails his Socialist rival Francois Hollande by around 10 percentage points in opinion polls.
Strauss-Kahn's dramatic arrest last May as he boarded a plane bound for Europe shattered his hopes of winning the presidency and forced his resignation from the IMF days later.
(Reporting by Yann Le Guernigou and Daniel Flynn; Editing by Louise Ireland)