Dominique Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest on Friday as the sexual assault case against him moved one step closer to dismissal after prosecutors told a Manhattan judge that they had serious problems with the case.
Prosecutors acknowledged that there were significant credibility issues with the hotel housekeeper who accused Mr. Strauss-Kahn of trying to rape her in May. In a brief hearing at State Supreme Court in Manhattan, prosecutors did not oppose his release; the judge then freed Mr. Strauss-Kahn on his own recognizance.
The development represented a stunning reversal in a case that reshaped the French political landscape and sparked debate about morals, the treatment of women and the American justice system. The case could also alter the political fortunes of Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, who is just a year and a half into his tenure and was facing his most highly publicized case to date.
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Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 62, was considered a strong contender for the French presidency before being accused of sexually assaulting the housekeeper who went to clean his luxury suite at the Sofitel New York. After his arrest, Mr. Strauss-Kahn resigned his position as managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
From Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s first court appearance on May 16, Mr. Vance’s office expressed extreme confidence in its case. At that hearing, an assistant district attorney said that “the victim provided very powerful details consistent with violent sexual assault committed by the defendant.” Those accounts varied greatly from what prosecutors revealed on Friday, acknowledging publicly for the first time that the case was not as strong as initially suggested. In a letter sent to Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers and filed with Justice Michael J. Obus on Friday, prosecutors outlined some of what they had discovered about Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s accuser, poking holes in her account and her background.
Prosecutors disclosed that the woman had admitted lying in her application for asylum from Guinea; according to the letter, she “fabricated the statement with the assistance of a male who provided her with a cassette recording” that she memorized. She also admitted that her claim that she had been the victim of a gang rape in Guinea was also a lie.
The woman also admitted to the prosecutors that she had misrepresented her income to qualify for her housing, and had declared a friend’s child — in addition to her own daughter — as a dependent on tax returns to increase her tax refund.
The housekeeper admitted that she lied about what happened after the episode on the 28th floor of the hotel. She had initially said that after being attacked, she had waited in a hallway until Mr. Strauss-Kahn left the room; she now admits that after the episode, she cleaned a nearby room, then returned to Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s suite to clean there. Only after that did she report to her supervisor that she had been attacked.
The woman’s lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, gave a lengthy retort outside the courtroom in which he conceded problems with her credibility, but insisted that she was still the victim of an attack, saying that her version of events has never wavered. He said some evidence, such as bruising she had suffered, was consistent with a nonconsensual encounter. And he said her decision to clean a room was consistent with someone who was confused and upset in the wake of an attack. Questions are sure to be raised about how swiftly and vigorously prosecutors proceeded with the case, as many in France questioned whether there was a rush to judgment with Mr. Strauss-Kahn.
While prosecutors have not yet dismissed the case, Mr. Strauss-Kahn will now be able to move about the country more freely; although prosecutors will retain his passport, most of his restrictive bail conditions have been lifted. Under those conditions, he was required to stay in a Lower Manhattan town house under armed guard and wearing an ankle monitor. He could only leave for certain reasons and had to notify prosecutors when he left.
Although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between Mr. Strauss-Kahn and the woman, prosecutors now do not believe much of what the accuser has told them about the circumstances or about herself.
Since her initial allegation on May 14, the accuser has repeatedly lied, one of the law enforcement officials said.
According to the two officials, the woman had a phone conversation with an incarcerated man within a day of her encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn in which she discussed the possible benefits of pursuing the charges against him. The conversation was recorded.
That man, the investigators learned, had been arrested on charges of possessing 400 pounds of marijuana. He is among a number of individuals who made multiple cash deposits, totaling around $100,000, into the woman’s bank account over the last two years. The deposits were made in Arizona, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania.
The investigators also learned that she was paying hundreds of dollars every month in phone charges to five companies. The woman had insisted she had only one phone and said she knew nothing about the deposits except that they were made by a man she described as her fiancé and his friends.
Outside the main criminal courts building in Manhattan, the crowds started to gather in the early-morning hours on Friday, preparing for the latest twists in this legal saga.
Mr. Strauss-Kahn and his wife, Anne Sinclair, arrived shortly before 11 a.m., about a half-hour before his scheduled court appearance. They had left the brick town house at 153 Franklin Street, where he has been under 24-hour confinement, paying $50,000 a month in rent and much more for required security measures. They got into a black Lexus RX350 sport-utility vehicle.
At his last court appearance, in which Mr. Strauss-Kahn pleaded not guilty to charges that included attempted rape and sexual abuse, there was a circuslike atmosphere outside the courthouse; interest in the appearance was so keen that it was televised on the two main French channels, TF1 and France 2, on the domestic cable news channels and on France24, which broadcasts in French, English and Arabic.
Dozens of photographers stood that day shoulder-to-shoulder with about 200 hotel workers who were bused to the scene by the Hotel and Motel Trades Council. The workers yelled “Shame on you!” and held their noses as Mr. Strauss-Kahn walked past them into the courthouse.
On Friday, the atmosphere was more subdued. There were still crowds, but mostly consisting of news crews with a sprinkling of curious passers-by.
By 9:15 a.m., Jean-Marc Beauchet and his wife, Véronique, tourists visiting from western France, had stationed themselves outside the south entrance of the courthouse, cameras in hand.
“Justice is going on,” said Mr. Beauchet, 62. “I hope he’s innocent. This is very bad for the French image.”
After his hearing, Mr. Strauss-Kahn re-emerged, smiling at the assembled crowds, the expression growing with each step.
Matt Flegenheimer and Colin Moynihan contributed reporting.