Former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been released from house arrest without bail by a New York City judge amid growing doubts about the credibility of the hotel maid who has accused him of attempted rape.
Flanked by his lawyers and a throng of photographers, Strauss-Kahn emerged on July 1 with a smile from a downtown courthouse after Judge Michael Obus significantly reduced the restrictions placed on the Frenchman.
In a stunning reversal, Strauss-Kahn will also be returned the $6 million bail and bond money that his lawyers previously posted.
While his travel documents will remain in custody, Strauss-Kahn will no longer be confined to the upscale Manhattan townhouse where he has stayed since his release from a top-security prison on May 20.
He will also no longer be required to wear electronic ankle bracelets to track his movement.
Following his arrest on May 14, Strauss-Kahn gave up his IMF job and apparently his hopes to run for the French presidency next year.
While prosecutors have not dropped their charges that the 62-year-old attempted to rape a 32-year-old maid in his luxury New York hotel suite, the decision indicates that the case is swinging in favor of the defense.
Benjamin Brafman, one of Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers, told reporters outside the courthouse he was confident that the charges would not hold up.
"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," Brafman said.
Strauss-Kahn's next appearance in court was set for July 18.
The ruling comes amid growing doubts over the credibility over the former IMF head’s accuser.
"The New York Times" reported overnight that prosecutors have discovered that the alleged victim, a Guinean immigrant, has repeatedly lied, including about being raped in the past.
Prosecutors said in a letter to the defense that the woman had admitted to them that she fabricated a story of being gang raped and beaten in her homeland to enhance her application for political asylum in the United States.
"The New York Times" also reported on possible links between the accuser and criminal activities, and said she spoke one day after the alleged attack with a man in prison about the possible benefits of pursuing charges against Strauss-Kahn.
The man was reportedly among a number of individuals who made cash deposits totaling $100,000 into the woman's bank account over the last two years.
While those suspicions do not directly undermine a rape case, they do raise serious doubts about whether the credibility of the witness would be sufficient to convince a jury that what she says about Strauss-Kahn is true.
Kenneth Thompson, the alleged victim’s lawyer, told reporters outside the courthouse that his client’s account of sexual assault had never wavered.
"She has described that sexual assault many times to the prosecutors and to me and she has never once changed a single thing about that account," Thompson said.
Earlier on July 1, Strauss-Kahn's allies in the French Socialist Party were hailing the anticipated turn of events.
Party leader Martine Aubry told journalists: "I would like to say that the news we have received from the American press gives me great joy, just as it does to all those who are close to Dominique. I hope from the bottom of my heart that the U.S. justice system will establish the whole of the truth as soon as tonight and will allow Dominique to get out of this nightmare."
As the case against Strauss-Kahn becomes more uncertain, still more uncertainty remains over Strauss-Kahn's future if he is ultimately exonerated. His return to the IMF is highly unlikely now that former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde has been appointed as the fund's new director.
In France, however, his future prospects suddenly look far less doomed than they did just a few days ago.
Strauss-Kahn, who had been a front-runner in the polls for the April 2012 presidential race before his arrest, remains popular at home, where the unexpected twist in his case has revived talk of his candidacy.
Christian Makarian, the managing editor of the French weekly "L'Express," told RFE/RL before the court decision that, "Many people within the Socialist Party now appear eager to revive his candidacy in case he is cleared of all charges.
"These people will continue their efforts, so yes, it is possible that he reenters the game if, I repeat, he is entirely cleared," Makarian said.
An opinion poll carried out immediately after his arrest found that half the French public believed he was the victim of a plot.
But for many French, the scandal has highlighted Strauss-Kahn's well-known predatory attitude to women -- a trait they say makes him unfit for the presidency.
“The dark, hidden side of Dominique Strauss-Kahn that his affair has revealed is not favorable to his presidential candidacy. His behavior, in my opinion, doesn't meet the moral conditions that are required by the post of president in France," Makarian said.
Alternatively, some analysts said that Strauss-Kahn, if cleared, could emerge as a contender to be France's next prime minister or finance minister.
with agency reports