NEW YORK/PARIS (Reuters)—The sexual assault case against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was close to collapse on Friday, sources close to the case said, in a dramatic turnabout that could upend French politics again.
Local, national and international media were camping out late Thursday night into Friday morning, getting in place to snap a coveted shot of the former head of the IMF as he leaves his TriBeCa townhouse for 100 Centre St, and for, possibly, his first taste of freedom since his May 14 arrest.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, was a steward of the world economy and a leading candidate for next year's French presidential election until he was arrested on May 14 and charged with the attempted rape and sexual abuse of a hotel maid in New York.
A source familiar with the probe told Reuters that prosecutors now had doubts about the maid's credibility as a witness.
The arrest forced his resignation from the International Monetary Fund and ended his presidential hopes, weeks before he had planned to declare his candidacy.
Strauss-Kahn's supporters in the French Socialist party voiced delight at the apparent reversal and some said they hoped he might re-enter the 2012 presidential race.
But political analysts said his reputation had been too tarnished for him to be a presidential contender, although he could play an influential political role if cleared.
"Even if what he did was not criminal, all this is going to take time," said Christophe Barbier, a political commentator and editor of L'Express weekly.
"There is everything we have learned about him, the damage to his reputation. All this makes the idea he could be a candidate very hypothetical, it's science fiction."
From the start, the case hinged on the purported victim, a 32-year-old Guinean immigrant who cleaned the $3,000-a-night suite at the Sofitel hotel in Manhattan where Strauss-Kahn was staying.
The New York Times quoted a source close to the investigation as saying the housekeeper had lied repeatedly and prosecutors no longer believed her account of the circumstances of the sexual encounter or of her own background.
Police and prosecutors initially trumpeted her credibility, confident in the woman's story that the former IMF chief emerged naked from the bathroom, chased her down the hall and forced her to perform oral sex on him. Evidence showed that semen was found on her uniform collar, a source close to the investigation said.
But defense lawyers challenged the claim of a violent assault, suggesting a defense built on consensual sex.
Another source close to the case said that the district attorney's office took the case to a grand jury without fully checking out the woman's bona fides.
"Just about everything that was reported on this woman early on was untrue but no one checked or wanted to believe anything else," the source told Reuters.
The New York Times reported that prosecutors met with Strauss-Kahn's lawyers on Thursday and the parties were discussing whether to dismiss the felony charges.
It said Strauss-Kahn could be released on his own recognizance and freed from house arrest.
Strauss-Kahn was due back to court in New York on Friday to seek changes to his bail conditions, defense attorney Benjamin Brafman said.