Dominique Strauss-Kahn was believed to be heading to his native France on Saturday, leaving the United States behind after the collapse of a sensational sexual assault case that cost him his job and possibly his French presidential ambitions.

The former International Monetary Fund leader and his wife were seen arriving at the Air France terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday, dogged by a crowd of cameras. They did not say where they were going as they headed for security, but French media have reported Strauss-Kahn was expected to board a plane to Paris on Saturday.

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Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, leaves his rented town home in Manhattan on Saturday. Strauss-Kahn was believed to be heading to his native France on Saturday. (David Karp/Associated Press)

The couple had left their rented New York City town home earlier in the day, in the company of his daughter Camille, carrying about a half-dozen pieces of luggage.

It would be the diplomat and economist's first return to his native France since his May arrest on charges of forcing a hotel housekeeper to perform oral sex and trying to rape her. Police took him off a plane at JFK airport just before it was to take off for France.

Strauss-Kahn, 62, spent almost a week in jail, six weeks under house arrest and nearly two more months barred from leaving the country before Manhattan prosecutors dropped the case last week, saying they no longer trusted the maid, Guinean immigrant Nafissatou Diallo.

Diallo is continuing to press her claims in a lawsuit. Strauss-Kahn denies the allegations.

Strauss-Kahn has been free to travel internationally since his passport was returned late last week. He had told reporters he was eager to return to France, but he first took a trip to Washington, D.C., on Monday to bid farewell to former IMF colleagues at the lending agency's headquarters. He had resigned days after his arrest.

He returned Thursday to the $50,000-a-month Manhattan town home that he had rented for his house arrest.

'This is a man who has suffered.'— Strauss-Kahn biographer Michel Taubmann

Until his arrest, Strauss-Kahn was considered the Socialist Party's front-runner to take on conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy next year. Socialists have rejoiced in the dismissal of the criminal case against Strauss-Kahn, but few observers in France expect a political return from him anytime soon.

"This is a man who has suffered. It is a man who will obviously take some time to get his bearings," his biographer, Michel Taubmann, told The Associated Press last week.

Strauss-Kahn also will have to contend with a sexual assault allegation that surfaced in France after his New York arrest. Authorities are investigating novelist Tristane Banon's complaint that Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her while she was interviewing him in 2002, an incident her mother, a regional Socialist official, has said she discouraged her daughter from reporting at the time but is now encouraging her to pursue.

Strauss-Kahn's lawyers have called Banon's account "imaginary."

And Strauss-Kahn still faces Diallo's lawsuit in New York, though it's unclear when he might have to be in New York for the civil case. Lawsuits can take years to play out, and defendants aren't required to come to court dates, as they generally are in criminal cases. She's seeking unspecified damages.

Diallo, 33, says Strauss-Kahn chased her down in his suite and attacked her after she arrived to clean it. Prosecutors said DNA evidence shows they had a sexual encounter; his lawyers say it was consensual.

Doubts about credibility

After initially portraying Diallo as a compelling witness, prosecutors developed doubts about her credibility. She had told them a concocted tale of having been gang-raped in the past, among other falsehoods about her background, and they said she gave varying versions of her actions immediately after her encounter with Strauss-Kahn.

"We simply no longer have confidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty," prosecutors wrote in a court filing last week.

Diallo has said she's telling the truth about being attacked. One of her lawyers, Douglas Wigdor, has said prosecutors' decision to abandon the criminal case "is an affront to Ms. Diallo and to all victims who come forward in the future."

The Associated Press does not name people who report being sexually assaulted unless they agree to be identified or come forward publicly, as Diallo and Banon have done.