Strauss-Kahn appears close to being free

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The maid accusing Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault was expected to be told Monday that charges are being dropped against the high-flying international banker and one-time favorite to be French president.

In the latest stunning twist to a case that has captivated international attention, prosecutors summoned Nafissatou Diallo, the 32-year-old African immigrant who says the International Monetary Fund chief forced her into oral sex when she went to clean his luxury hotel room three months ago.

Her lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, told The New York Times he understood the 3:00 pm (1900 GMT) meeting at the District Attorney's Office was to inform Diallo that the case had collapsed.

"They're going to announce that they're dismissing the case entirely, or some of the charges," Thompson said.

Thompson told AFP he still hoped "the DA will stand by Diallo," but it appeared increasingly likely that prosecutors will use a court hearing on Tuesday to ask that the judge formally dismiss charges.

If that happens, Strauss-Kahn would be free to return to France, where his May 14 arrest in New York and brief imprisonment before being freed on bail, caused a political uproar.

Not only did Strauss-Kahn have to resign as head of the IMF after his arrest, but he had to abandon what was widely expected to be a successful challenge against President Nicolas Sarkozy in upcoming elections.

The case has been one of the most closely watched in New York in many years, pitting the privileged, super-wealthy Frenchman against an illiterate Guinean housemaid employed by the Sofitel hotel in Manhattan.

Initially, prosecutors and police said there was strong evidence of a forced sexual encounter, backed by DNA and traces of Strauss-Kahn's sperm.

But Strauss-Kahn pleaded not guilty and his defense team, led by one of America's most famous trial lawyers, Benjamin Brafman, said any encounter would only have been consensual.

The prosecution 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 said she suffered back in her home country of Guinea.

In addition, she was said to have discussed Strauss-Kahn's wealth in a telephone conversation with a Guinean friend currently held in a US prison.

The lying was not directly related to Diallo's account of the alleged sex attack and her lawyers say that she never discussed Strauss-Kahn's wealth.

However, prosecutors would need to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt in criminal court and, legal experts say, the problems with Diallo's past may have weakened her credibility on the witness stand beyond repair.

On Monday, the New York Daily News quoted unnamed sources close to the case saying that the district attorney would reveal "bombshells" about her credibility problems.

One new detail, according to the News, was that she had not told prosecutors about having sexual relations the night before the alleged assault, which would have helped explain why doctors found vaginal redness when they examined her the next day.

Even if Strauss-Kahn walks free, his own reputation has suffered gravely and Diallo has filed a civil case against him, seeking unspecified damages, alleging a "sadistic" sex attack.

The New York Times reported that Thompson also plans to ask the judge overseeing the case to appoint a special prosecutor, because he believes that the office of District Attorney Cyrus Vance had mishandled the case.

"She should not have her right to go to trial in a criminal case taken away by the Manhattan district attorneys office," The Times quoted Thompson as saying.

Michel Taubmann, the author of a biography about the former French finance minister, said Strauss-Kahn told him he did not want to "celebrate too quickly."

"He does not want to think about the future until the court makes its decision," Taubmann told France-Soir newspaper.

© 2011 AFP

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