MOST French people believe International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is the victim of a political plot, an opinion poll showed yesterday .

A CSA poll published yesterday shows 57% of French people surveyed said they thought the man who was a presidential frontrunner until his arrest in New York on Saturday was the victim of a political plot.

Among supporters of the Socialist Party, which Mr Strauss-Kahn had been expected to lead into next year's election against President Nicolas Sarkozy, 70% believed he was the victim of a conspiracy, 23% did not, and 7% had no opinion.

The telephone survey was carried out on Monday among 1007 adults across the country.

Mr Strauss-Kahn was formally charged in New York on Monday with seven counts involving sexual assault and attempted rape of a maid in the Times Square Sofitel Hotel.

The poll also shows that the left- wing opposition is still in the lead.

The survey found that 54% of those asked believed the Socialist Party could still win the election next April and May without Mr Strauss- Kahn, their expected candidate.

It was the first opinion poll for next year's election that did not include Mr Strauss-Kahn in the list of potential candidates. Among Socialist voters, 70% said they believed the party could still win the election.

Mr Sarkozy, whose ratings are at rock-bottom, is suffering defections to the far-right National Front and faces an uphill struggle to get re- elected next year. Mr Strauss-Kahn's almost certain removal from the race is not expected to help Mr Sarkozy much.

Yesterday's poll found that former Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande would be the new favourite candidate on the left, 10 points ahead of party boss Martine Aubry. It predicted that either candidate would score 23% in the first round of the election, with Mr Sarkozy one point behind Mr Hollande or level with Ms Aubry . Reuters