A Manhattan judge signed off on an agreement to release former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on his own recognizance during a hearing Friday, but the court retained his passport and he still faces charges of sexually assaulting a hotel maid.
Strauss-Kahn and his wife, French journalist Anne Sinclair, smiled and held hands as they left the New York State Supreme Court building. They made no statements as they got into a waiting car.
After the hearing, attorney William Taylor said his client's release underscores "how easy it is for people to be charged with serious crimes and for there to be a rush to judgment."
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. acknowledged that an investigation by his office had "raised concerns about the complaining witness' credibility" and that he was ethically bound to disclose that information to defense attorneys.
But Vance was quick to note that the case against Strauss-Kahn is ongoing.
"Our prosecutors from the Manhattan D.A.'s office will continue their investigation into these alleged crimes and will do so until we have uncovered all relevant facts," he said outside the courthouse. "Today's proceedings did not dismiss the indictment or any of the charges against the defendant."
Circumstances Have 'Changed Substantially'
Strauss-Kahn, 62, had been under house arrest in Manhattan on $1 million bail while awaiting trial. The decision to free him came after prosecutors discovered inconsistencies that raised questions about whether his alleged victim, a 32-year-old woman from Guinea in West Africa, might have lied about her background and her activities in the hours around the alleged May 14 assault.
During the hearing, state Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus told a stern-faced Strauss-Kahn that he was granting a release because the circumstances of the case had "changed substantially." He also returned the cash bond that Strauss-Kahn had posted.
Obus said Strauss-Kahn's house arrest had been meant to guarantee his later appearance in court, telling him "I have no doubt that you will comply" with an order to appear for the next hearing, on July 18.
The New York Times reported Thursday that after the maid claimed to have been assaulted by Strauss-Kahn, she allegedly had a phone conversation with a man who has been behind bars for drug offenses. The two were said to have discussed the benefits of going forward with accusations against a man who is so famous and wealthy.
There has also been what's described as unusual activity in her bank accounts, according to the Times.
"Perhaps more importantly, investigators are apparently concerned about things dating years back in her background," NPR's Carrie Johnson said of the housekeeper. "Based on what sources are saying, there are lots of issues from this housekeeper's past, perhaps even dating from her application for asylum to enter this country."
In a June 30 letter to Strauss-Kahn's legal team, Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon wrote that the chambermaid's asylum application asserted that she had been beaten and gang raped for her opposition to the regime in Guinea.
"In interviews in connection with the investigation of this case, the complainant admitted [that the statement] was false," the letter read.
Illuzzi-Orbon also wrote that contrary to the woman's initial statement to prosecutors and her testimony to the grand jury, she did not immediately call her supervisor to report the hotel incident, but instead "proceeded to clean a nearby room and then returned to [Strauss-Kahn's] suite ... and began to clean that suite before she reported the incident to her supervisor."
An attorney representing the housekeeper, Kenneth Thompson, said outside the courtroom Friday that medical evidence supports the chambermaid's account and the charges against Strauss-Kahn. The woman told police that Strauss-Kahn chased her down, tried to pull down her pantyhose and forced her to perform oral sex before she broke free.
Thompson said the woman entered Strauss-Kahn's $3,000-a-night suite at New York's Sofitel hotel "for one reason only, and that was to clean that suite." Strauss-Kahn, he said, then "came running out of one those rooms naked."
Thompson said his client "was on her knees fighting to get away" as he described the alleged attack in graphic detail.
"She has never once changed a single thing about that encounter," he said.
Strauss-Kahn, who had been under armed guard in a Manhattan townhouse since posting $6 million in cash bail and bond, has denied the woman's allegations. His lawyers have said that any intimate contact was consensual.
Prosecutors' apparent doubts about the woman's credibility do not mean that they discount her allegation of rape, but the developments could seriously complicate the case against Strauss-Kahn, NPR's Johnson said.
"The government has said on the record that they do have DNA evidence linking Strauss-Kahn to that hotel room and to clothing on the housekeeper and perhaps even to carpeting on the hotel floor," Johnson said. "However, Strauss-Kahn has been setting up a defense all along that contact with this housekeeper was consensual, so therefore it wouldn't be a surprise to find some DNA."
The New York Police Department, which investigated the case, declined to comment to The Associated Press.
But a law enforcement official told the AP that the woman was in Strauss-Kahn's room only briefly before the alleged attack, that his semen was found on her uniform, and that she quickly reported the alleged assault and told a consistent story about it to investigators and prosecutors.
Renewed Speculation Of A Conspiracy?
In France, news that the case may be in jeopardy revived Socialist Party hopes that Strauss-Kahn would make a bid to unseat President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's election — a possibility that seemed all but impossible after the accusations first came to light.
If the case collapses, Strauss-Kahn, a prominent Socialist, could once again be a leading potential challenger to conservative Sarkozy. It also could revive speculation of a conspiracy against Strauss-Kahn aimed at torpedoing his presidential chances.
A poll conducted within days of his arrest suggested that a majority of French think Strauss-Kahn — who has a longstanding reputation as a womanizer and is nicknamed "the great seducer" — was the victim of a plot.
In early hearings, prosecutors underscored that they thought the evidence against Strauss-Kahn was formidable. They had argued against his release from custody in May, citing the violent nature of the alleged offenses and saying his wealth and international connections would make it easy for him to flee.
Prosecutors have said in court that Strauss-Kahn appeared on surveillance tapes to be in a hurry as he left the hotel, though his lawyers have said he was merely rushing to lunch.
Strauss-Kahn was in New York on a personal trip when the maid made her accusations. During initial bail hearings, prosecutors noted that he was arrested on a Paris-bound plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and that they could not compel his return from France if he fled.
The former IMF chief's legal team has underscored that the flight was long-planned and that Strauss-Kahn was eager to return to court to clear his name.
Strauss-Kahn's attorneys also have said they have unreleased information that could "gravely undermine the credibility" of the housekeeper. The defense was using private investigators to aggressively check the victim's background and her story, but the Times reported that it was investigators for the prosecution who uncovered discrepancies.
NPR's Carrie Johnson and Jim Zarroli contributed to this story, which contains material from The Associated Press.