NEW YORK // The former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, walked out of court smiling yesterday after a judge lifted his bail conditions and prosecutors revealed doubts about the accuser in the sex assault case against him.
Mr Strauss-Kahn, whose hopes for running in France's presidential election next year were dashed by the allegations and a glut of negative publicity, still faces charges of attempted rape of a hotel maid in the suite of his midtown New York hotel.
But prosecutors acknowledge that the credibility of the 32-year-old Guinean chambermaid behind the accusations has been called into question, amid claims that she has repeatedly lied and has links with criminals.
Justice Michael Obus released Mr Strauss-Kahn "at his own recognisance" and returned his US$6 million (Dh22m) bail and bond. The 62-year-old is no longer subject to electronic monitoring and an armed guard in a rented townhome. He can now travel within the United States.
"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," Mr Obus said, adding that the "case is not over". He adjourned proceedings until July 18.
Mr Strauss-Kahn allegedly emerged naked from a bathroom and chased the maid through his $3,000-a-night suite in Manhattan's Sofitel hotel on May 14, tore her stockings and forced her to perform oral sex before she broke free.
Semen stains on the maid's uniform provide forensic evidence that a sexual encounter did take place, but the case was expected to hinge on whether the incident was consensual or an assault.
US newspapers claim that investigators now question whether the maid is a reliable witness. She spoke by phone with a convicted prisoner within a day of the incident and discussed the possible benefits of bringing the allegations, it is claimed.
The prisoner was among a number of people who have deposited cash totalling about $100,000 into her account over the past two years, The New York Times reported.
She also told investigators that her application for asylum in the US had details of a previous rape in her native Guinea, where she said she had been subjected to genital mutilation. The documents do not bear out these facts, it is claimed.
Mr Strauss-Kahn's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said: "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."
Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan district attorney, said investigations would continue "until we have uncovered all the facts". Kenneth Thompson, a lawyer for the alleged victim, maintained that the housemaid is a credible witness who suffered a brutal attack.
"The only defence that Dominique Strauss-Kahn has is that this sexual encounter was consensual. That is a lie," said Mr Thompson. He recounted a sex assault that left his client bruised so badly that medical evidence can back up her account.
Mr Strauss-Kahn was arrested aboard a Paris-bound flight at a New York airport hours after the incident. He resigned from the IMF after five days of media frenzy in which he was nicknamed the "great seducer" and depicted as a predatory womaniser.
Mr Strauss-Kahn was booed by protesters outside the court at subsequent hearings. He appeared dishevelled, handcuffed and unshaven after being locked up in the grim Rikers Island prison and facing a possible 25-year jail sentence.
The expected collapse of the prosecution case raises questions about whether Mr Strauss-Kahn can return to politics, and revives speculation among supporters that he was framed in a plot to scupper his presidential bid.