Strauss-Kahn in court as case threatens to unravel

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Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn could be freed from house arrest Friday after prosecutors reportedly admitted major doubts about the credibility of the maid claiming he tried to rape her.

The sensational twist raised hopes among France's opposition that the case will collapse and the Socialist heavyweight could return to politics, perhaps even as a candidate to fight Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency in 2012.

Strauss-Kahn, 62, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and blue tie, arrived at court shortly before 1450 GMT with his wife Anne Sinclair, appearing serious but upbeat as they went into a hastily-arranged hearing.

Inside, a media pack jostled for the best spot on the court benches as they awaited for the dramatic events to unfold.

The New York Times, citing two law enforcement officials, said prosecutors would tell the judge they "have problems with the case" based on discoveries by investigators, and that they will disclose more of their findings to the defense.

Bloomberg TV, citing two sources familiar with the case, said the prosecutors had agreed to free Strauss-Kahn from house arrest and return his bail money.

If the judge agrees, Strauss-Kahn would be freed "on his own recognizance," meaning he could travel freely in the United States and have his $1 million bail and $5 million bond returned, Bloomberg said.

The prominent French politician resigned from his post at the world's crisis lender to fight charges that he sexually assaulted and attempted to rape a hotel maid in his luxury hotel suite in Manhattan on May 14.

The Times said that though there was clear evidence a sexual encounter took place, prosecutors did not believe much of the version of events told by the Guinean-born maid and suspect she repeatedly lied to them.

Sources close to the case also told US media that Strauss-Kahn's accuser had lied on her application for asylum, including about a past claim of rape.

"It is a mess, a mess on both sides," one official told the Times.

If confirmed, such doubts could mark a stunning reversal in the case that has upended politics in France and prompted a change in leadership at the International Monetary Fund at a time of major upheaval in the eurozone.

Word that the case might implode has raised hopes among France's opposition Socialists that a vindicated Strauss-Kahn might return to help them drive Sarkozy from office in next year's elections.

"It's a thunderbolt -- but in the opposite direction this time," said Socialist former prime minister Lionel Jospin.

Officials in the United States said that within a day of the alleged rape attempt, the maid was recorded speaking on the phone with a man jailed for possessing 400 pounds (180 kilograms) of marijuana and discussing the benefits of pursuing charges.

The Times said he is one of several individuals who made multiple cash deposits, totaling around $100,000, into the woman's bank account over the last two years.

The district attorney's office may ask Strauss-Kahn -- who is currently under house arrest in a Manhattan apartment and forced to wear an ankle monitoring bracelet -- to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, but his lawyers would contest such a move, the daily added.

Among the discoveries, one official told the newspaper, are issues involving the asylum application of the 32-year-old housekeeper and her possible links to criminal activities, including drug dealing and money laundering.

Officials declined to reveal the reason for Friday's hearing.

"No details about this appearance will be available until the defendant appears in court tomorrow," the Manhattan District Attorney's office said Thursday.

The former French finance minister had not been expected back in court until July 18.


© 2011 AFP

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