Strauss-Kahn walks free after sex case dropped

24th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

A US judge on Tuesday dismissed all sex crime charges against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, drawing the curtain on a torrid saga that derailed the stellar career of one of the world's most powerful men.

Judge Michael Obus took just minutes to approve the prosecutors' request to abandon a case they said had been made untenable as a result of the constant lying of the hotel maid accusing Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault.

There was a last-minute delay while an appeals court considered an attempt by the maid's lawyer to have a special prosecutor take over the flailing investigation.

The moment the court denied the appeal, Strauss-Kahn was free.

However, if the former International Monetary Fund chief was thinking of an immediate return to France, where until the scandal he'd been seen as a likely winner of upcoming presidential elections, fate intervened in the form of a rare earthquake.

The bizarre twist prompted early closure of courthouse offices and meant Strauss-Kahn would have to wait until Wednesday to collect his passport, which was confiscated right after his arrest on May 14.

The 62-year-old looked relieved as he left the building, accompanied by his millionaire French wife Anne Sinclair, who has stood by his side ever since the sensational sex scandal erupted.

"This is the end of a terrible and unjust ordeal," Strauss-Kahn told reporters outside of his upscale temporary residence in Lower Manhattan.

"I'm eager to return to my country," he said, pledging to speak at "greater length" once back in France.

Strauss-Kahn said he was "relieved" for his wife, children and "everyone who has supported me at this time by sending me letters and emails." He called the legal saga a "nightmare."

Even if he returns to France, Strauss-Kahn's reputation has been badly sullied by an affair that forced him to resign as head of the IMF and put his French presidential dreams on hold.

Demonstrators, many of them women, hurled slogans outside of the courtroom. One, referring to Strauss-Kahn by the initials by which he is known in France, shouted: "DSK, you're a sick bastard and your wife is even sicker."

The District Attorney's Office defended its decision to drop the high profile case, saying that despite strong initial evidence of a possible forced sexual encounter, there was no definitive proof and the maid herself could no longer be believed.

Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said she did not take the decision "lightly," but added that the accuser, 32-year-old chambermaid Nafissatou Diallo, had "severely undermined her reliability as a witness in this case."

Later, District Attorney Cyrus Vance himself issued a statement justifying his decision as "absolutely the right one, legally and ethically."

"If we are not persuaded -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- that a crime has been committed, based on the evidence we have, we cannot ask a jury to convict," he said.

He sent his written statement to journalists after the earthquake forced him to abort a press conference.

The case garnered world attention on May 14 when Strauss-Kahn was escorted away by New York police from his first class seat on an Air France plane moments before its departure for Paris.

At first, prosecutors said they had strong evidence that Strauss-Kahn forced Diallo into oral sex in his luxury Manhattan hotel room and attempted to rape her.

But the case began to unravel weeks later when prosecutors announced that Diallo had been caught lying on her asylum application form, including about a gang rape she had suffered back home in Guinea.

She was also said to have discussed Strauss-Kahn's wealth in a telephone conversation with a Guinean friend currently held in a US prison, and to have changed sworn testimony to the grand jury considering the case.

Prosecutors stressed that Strauss-Kahn did engage in a sex act with the maid in his Sofitel hotel room, ejaculating over her maid's uniform. However, they said they could not prove to a jury that the sex was forced.

In their 25-page motion filed Monday asking the judge to dismiss all charges, prosecutors said Diallo was "persistently, and at times inexplicably, untruthful in describing matters of both great and small significance."

"The nature and number of the complainant's falsehoods leave us unable to credit her version of events beyond a reasonable doubt, whatever the truth may be about the encounter" at the hotel, they added.

Strauss-Kahn could, in theory, return to frontline French politics, but few in France are expecting a prominent role any time soon.

"I don't think he can hope for a center stage role in French politics now," said Gerard Grunberg of the prestigious Sciences-Po school in Paris, where Strauss-Kahn once taught.

"His public image is much deteriorated, and the Socialist Party and its leaders must be mad at him for having missed this moment of opportunity. Neither the public nor the party want to see him back on the frontline."

© 2011 AFP

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