World

Former IMF chief's house arrest ends

A New York City judge ended house arrest for former IMF leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Friday after after prosecutors acknowledged there were questions about the credibility of the hotel housekeeper who accused him of sexual assault.

Court told alleged victim's credibility in doubt

Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves New York State Supreme court with his wife Anne Sinclair after Friday's decision to free him without bail or home confinement. (David Karp/Associated Press)

A New York City judge ended house arrest for former IMF leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Friday after  prosecutors acknowledged there were questions about the credibility of the hotel housekeeper who accused him  of sexual assault.

He was released without bail on his own recognizance during a hearing in State Supreme Court. His lawyer said Strauss-Kahn will return to court as needed. The next court session in the case is scheduled  July 18.

What the judge said:

"I understand that the circumstances of this case have changed substantially and I agree the risk that he would not be here has receded quite a bit." — Justice Michael Obus

The defence:

"We believed from the beginning that this case was not what it appeared to be and we are absolutely convinced that while today is a first giant step in the right direction, the next step will lead to a complete dismissal of the charges."  — Strauss-Kahn's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman

The maid's lawyer:

"The claim that this was consensual is a lie. She made some mistakes but that doesn't mean she is not a rape victim."

"When Dominique Strauss-Kahn threw the victim to the floor, he tore a ligament in her shoulder. That is a medical fact."  — lawyer Kennneth Thompson

The agreement approved by Justice Michael Obus in Manhattan does not give Strauss-Kahn his passport back, meaning he can't head to France anytime soon, but his bail payment was returned.

The criminal case against him stands.

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office agreed to the release after it uncovered serious questions about the credibility of a maid who accused Strauss-Kahn of assaulting her in New York's ritzy Sofitel  hotel in May.

The Associated Press, quoting a person familiar with the investigation, said it learned about the agreement shortly before the 62-year-old Strauss-Kahn arrived for the hearing amid a throng of reporters, cameras and onlookers. He is accused of crimes including attempted rape and denies the allegations.

Questions raised about the story

Investigators have come to believe the woman lied about some of her activities in the hours around the alleged attack and about her own background, the court heard.

The stark turn in the case came after the woman admitted to prosecutors she had made up a story of being gang raped and beaten in her homeland of Guinea to enhance her application for political asylum, prosecutors said in a letter to defence lawyers.

She also misrepresented what she did after the alleged attack — instead of fleeing to a hallway and waiting for a supervisor, she went to clean another room and then returned to clean Strauss-Kahn's suite before telling her supervisor that she had been attacked, prosecutors said.

She also misrepresented her income and claimed someone else's child as her own dependent on tax returns, they said.

After his arrest, Strauss-Kahn resigned from his post leading the International Monetary Fund and watched his presidential ambitions seemingly crumble. On Tuesday, the IMF's board named French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde as the first woman to lead the global lending organization.

Prosecutors haven't necessarily reached a new conclusion about the allegations against Strauss-Kahn and have not decided whether to downgrade the charges, an official familiar with the case told The Associated Press.

Authorities have said they have forensic evidence of a sexual encounter, but defence lawyers have said it wasn't forced.

Investigators had earlier said they found traces of Strauss-Kahn's semen on the maid's uniform, indicating an encounter, and they haven't backed away from that.

But the serious reduction in bail on — from a $6 million in cash bail and bond under house arrest in a pricey townhouse, to nothing — signals the case is not as serious as initially thought.

The New York Police Department, which investigated the case, declined to comment Thursday.

The maid told police that Strauss-Kahn chased her down a hallway in his $3,000-a-night suite in New York's Sofitel hotel, tried to pull down her pantyhose and forced her to perform oral sex before she broke free.

If the case collapses, it could once again shake up the race for the French presidency. Strauss-Kahn, a prominent Socialist, had been seen as a leading potential challenger to conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's elections — until the New York hotel allegations embarrassed Strauss-Kahn's party and led to his resignation from the IMF.

"Those who know Dominique Strauss-Kahn will not be surprised by this evolution of events," one of his French lawyers, Leon Lef Forster, told The AP in Paris. "What he was accused of has no relation to his personality. It was something that was not credible."

Another of his defence lawyers, William Taylor, said Friday's developments were a "great relief," adding that it's important observers and the media refrain from judgment "until the facts are all in."

The woman's lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, maintained that his client was sexually assaulted by Strauss-Kahn and that the hotel housekeeper intends to go public with her story. He did not specify when that might happen.

With files from The Associated Press

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