NEW YORK – Smiling faintly as he walked out of court, former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest Friday after prosecutors acknowledged serious questions about the credibility of the hotel maid who accused him of sexual assault.
The charges against him stand – for now, at least. But weeks after saying it had a strong case that was only getting stronger, the district attorney’s office was on the defensive. So was the housekeeper’s lawyer, who continued to insist that Strauss-Kahn had violently abused the woman.
An attorney for Strauss-Kahn, meanwhile, called the turn of events “a great relief.” The case underscores “how easy it is for people to be charged with serious crimes and for there to be a rush to judgment,” William W. Taylor said.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, had been confined for weeks to a luxury New York City townhouse on $6 million bail after his arrest on attempted rape charges that forced his resignation as head of the International Monetary Fund and appeared to destroy any hope he had of running for president of France next year.
But then, on Friday, defense lawyers went into court to ask that his bail conditions be eased, with prosecutors’ assent.
“The strength of the case has been affected by the substantial credibility issues regarding” the accuser, Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon told the judge, who then canceled Strauss-Kahn’s bail and most of the other restrictions.
According to prosecutors, the woman admitted she lied to a grand jury about what she did immediately after the alleged attack. She actually went on cleaning rooms instead of reporting the episode right away, prosecutors told the defense in a letter.
She also told prosecutors a tearful, vivid but untrue story of having been gang-raped in her native Guinea, later admitting it was among various false accounts of oppression that she had been told to memorize to enhance her 2004 application for political asylum, prosecutors said. She claimed someone else’s child as her own dependent and lied about her income on tax forms and was untruthful about “a variety of additional topics,” they said.
Days after Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, the woman was recorded talking about the case and mentioning Strauss-Kahn’s wealth in a phone call to a man incarcerated on a drug charge, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press.
Authorities have not said specifically what they now think of the truthfulness of the woman’s allegations against Strauss-Kahn. Investigators found traces of his semen on her uniform, and that is powerful evidence there was a sexual encounter of some kind, though the defense has said anything that happened was not forced.
Still, the apparent lies about her background and her behavior could seriously damage her credibility as a witness if the case goes to trial.
Taylor, Strauss-Kahn’s attorney, said it was absurd to think of his client as a rapist.
“He’s a seducer, not an attacker,” Taylor said, adding that the district attorney had not offered a plea deal to reduce the charges. “We wouldn’t take one if he did, because Mr. Strauss-Kahn is not guilty.”