Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was released from house arrest on Friday as prosecutors investigated questions about the credibility of the woman he is charged with trying to rape.
Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 62, still faces charges over the alleged attack on a hotel maid in New York but the case appears to be shifting in his favor in a turn of events that could upend French politics.
Until his May 14 arrest, Mr. Strauss-Kahn was a strong potential challenger to Conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy in France’s 2012 election. Jubilant supporters in the French Socialist party hoped he might rejoin the presidential race but some analysts saw his chances as too tarnished.
Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers, saying the credibility of the woman had been thrown into serious doubt, want the charges dropped. The judge said prosecutors will reexamine the evidence after they revealed in court documents that the maid had lied to a grand jury about her actions after the alleged attack.
“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 told the court as he released Mr. Strauss-Kahn. “There will be no rush to judgment. The people will continue to investigate and reexamine the matter as appropriate.”
Mr. Strauss-Kahn agreed to return to court as needed, including for a July 18 hearing. His bail payment was returned to him but his passport was not, meaning he can travel only within the United States.
With his resignation on May 19, Mr. Strauss-Kahn severed all his ties to the International Monetary Fund. Christine Lagarde, who has just stepped down as French finance minister, takes over the top IMF job on Tuesday.
The case has hinged on the accuser, a 32-year-old Guinean immigrant who cleaned the $3,000-a-night suite at the Sofitel hotel in Manhattan where Mr. Strauss-Kahn was staying.
Prosecutors found issues with the accuser’s asylum application, her tax returns and her statements to the grand jury investigating the assault case, court documents show.
Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon told the court “the facts of the sexual encounter was and is corroborated” but some details appear to have changed.
The woman initially said Mr. Strauss-Kahn assaulted her and she then cowered in the hallway outside his room until he left and she felt safe to seek help. Now, prosecutors say, she admits she cleaned a nearby room and then returned to Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s suite to start cleaning before reporting the incident.
After the dramatic revelations, Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer Benjamin Brafman said he wants the charges dropped.
“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,” Mr. Brafman said.
The woman’s brother told Reuters in Guinea that she was the victim of a smear campaign.
Her lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, said after the hearing his client’s story had never wavered and that Mr. Strauss-Kahn had bruised her badly and tore a ligament in her shoulder.
“The claim that this was consensual is a lie,” Mr. Thompson told reporters. “She made some mistakes but that doesn’t mean she is not a rape victim.”
The New York Times quoted law enforcement officials as saying prosecutors found possible links between the accuser and people involved in drug dealing and money laundering.
They also discovered the woman made a phone call to an incarcerated man within a day of her encounter with Strauss-Kahn in which she discussed the possible benefits of pursuing the charges against him, the paper said.
The conversation was recorded. The man was among a number of people who had made multiple cash deposits, totaling around $100,000, into the woman’s bank account over the last two years, The New York Times said.