With charges dismissed against Dominique Strauss-Khan, speculation turns to his political future in France.
DSK free to go after judge dismisses rape case
A New York judge has dismissed criminal charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former International Monetary Fund chief accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid.
In asking that the case be dismissed, prosecutors said Nafissatou Diallo, the chambermaid Mr Strauss-Kahn was accused of trying to rape, made numerous false statements and gave prosecutors and a grand jury "irreconcilable accounts" about events immediately after the encounter.
"If, after a careful assessment of the facts, the prosecutor is not convinced that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, he or she must decline to proceed," two assistant district attorneys, Joan Illuzzi-Orbon and John McConnell, said in the submission.
Judge Michael Obus also denied a request by lawyers representing Ms Diallo to have the investigation transferred to a special prosecutor, meaning the French politician will walk free after a three-month legal saga.
With the criminal case over barring a successful appeal of Judge Obus's decisions, the thoughts of many in France turned to one dominant question: does Mr Strauss-Kahn have a political future?
If the prospect of a successful prosecution were deemed impossible, the man known globally since his arrest in May as DSK would be free to return to France and, theoretically, become a candidate for next year's presidential elections.
But colleagues in the opposition socialist party (PS) are at an advanced stage of their selection process. An immediate revival of his ambitions is therefore considered highly improbable.
While the sex charges in New York may have represented the most serious legal problem facing Mr Strauss-Kahn, they were not the only ones.
Ms Diallo is suing him in civil proceedings and he is likely to be questioned in France about a writer's claim that she was molested by him eight years ago.
Even so, some political figures in France believe Mr Strauss-Kahn could still play an important role in shaping the short and medium-term future of their country.
Opinion is mixed but the DSK factor is not ruled out even in the camps of other socialists vying for the presidential candidacy.
"I think in the months and years ahead, DSK will once again be able to play a major role in French politics," said Andre Vallini, a leading PS parliamentarian and regional council leader, on the news channel LCI.
Mr Vallini is close to Francois Hollande, who is the favourite to be chosen to stand for the PS. Mr Hollande was not said to be among the prominent PS politicians Mr Strauss-Kahn called while on bail in New York.
An opposing view was taken by a polling specialist, Stephane Rozes, who said it would be difficult for Mr Strauss-Kahn to regain his past status.
"The French don't want to know about the private and notably the sex lives of politicians, but when it is spread as it has been then the presidential potential of the person concerned is, de facto, affected," Mr Rozes said.
But Pierre Moscovici, previously close to Mr Strauss-Kahn and now coordinating Mr Hollande's primaries campaign, added: "When he chooses to resume his place in public debate, his would be a valuable voice for the left and the country in the current crisis.
"But he must be allowed time and freedom to make the decisions that he considers right."
What role DSK might play is not yet clear.
Earlier in what the French media call Mr Strauss-Kahn's "summer of hell", there were suggestions on the left that he could be summoned to office as a cabinet minister if next year's parliamentary elections, which quickly follow the poll for the Elysee Palace, produce a socialist government.
He has previously served as minister of finance, the economy and industry and, with his recent experience as an effective IMF chief, could easily be seen as a safe pair of hands in handling the budget.
Or Mr Strauss could, in the context of a socialist administration, act as a key adviser on economic policy.
With the other legal pitfalls still lying in his path, some observers may find it odd that any future in public life is contemplated for a man whose conduct, even on a charitable interpretation of events in Room 2806 of a New York Sofitel, would mean probable political ruin in such countries as the US and Britain.
But swift resolution of the outstanding matters would alter thinking in France a great deal.
French commentators have speculated on the possibility of an out-of-court settlement of the chambermaid's civil claim and abandonment by French prosecutors, because of the time lapse, of the inquiry into allegations by the journalist and author Tristane Banon that she had to fight him off when she interviewed him in 2003.
Then the way would be clear for a spectacular comeback.
The Journal du Dimanche newspaper has cited a string of sources with favourable opinions on DSK. The calming, forgiving and almost maternal role of his French-American wife, Anne Sinclair, was emphasised.
Referring to one of Mr Strauss-Kahn's many supposed affairs, the paper quoted someone it described as close to the couple as saying his decision to end it and stay with the wife he loved "showed he is just a skirt-chaser, not a rapist".
It is also true that the French body politic has a capacity to allow the rehabilitation of those who fall from grace. Alain Juppe, a former prime minister, commands considerable respect as foreign secretary despite a conviction and suspended prison sentences for his role in a corruption scandal at Paris city hall.
The former president, Jacques Chirac, is France's most popular contemporary political figure even though he is soon due to stand trial on charges arising from the same events, dating from when he was mayor of Paris and Mr Juppe a trusted lieutenant.
Until May 14, the day he was arrested while seated in first class on an Air France jet preparing to leave JFK Airport for Paris, DSK was widely considered the man most likely to sweep Nicolas Sarkozy from power and become the next president of France.
If that challenge now seems beyond him, few would argue with confidence that public service has seen the last of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
* With additional reporting from Bloomberg News