After New York prosecutors raise questions about the credibility of the hotel maid who made a rape allegation against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a judge allows the former chief of the International Monetary Fund to remain free on his own recognizance. 'I understand that the circumstances of this case have changed substantially,' the judge says.
Former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn arrives at New York Supreme court with his wife Anne Sinclair. (Associated Press)
New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus significantly lessened the terms under which Strauss-Kahn, 62, had been released from jail pending the adjudication of charges including felony attempted rape. The French banker and politician had been free after posting $6 million in bail and insurance bond in May and has been living under armed guard in virtual house arrest, forced to wear an ankle bracelet.
"I understand that the circumstances of this case have changed substantially and I agree the risk that he would not be here has receded quite a bit. I release Mr. Strauss-Kahn at his own recognizance," Obus said.
Obus noted that the case was not over. "There will be no rush to judgment on this case," he said.
Strauss-Kahn appeared grim as he left the courtroom with his wife, Anne Sinclair. As he moved through a phalanx of cameramen outside the courtroom, he gave a slight smile.
During the proceedings, the prosecution admitted there was a "substantial credibility issue" that forced a reassessment of the case. Investigators now question some of the maid's statements about what happened during the period surrounding the encounter. There also are questions about whether she had been raped in her native Guinea, as she said in her application for asylum in the United States.
Ken Thompson, the lawyer for the woman, delivered a long, angry defense of his client outside the courthouse.
"She was violently attacked in that hotel room," he said, accusing prosecutors of mistreating the maid during their interviews with her. He said the district attorney was "afraid" to try such a big case and thus laid the foundation to have it derailed. "Anyone can see that," Thompson said.
Thompson said the district attorney's office's fear of loss comes after it had lost two major cases, including one against two police officers charged with rape.
Manhattan Dist. Atty. Cyrus Vance Jr. defended his office's actions.
"We continued to investigate the case rigorously as we do and are obligated to do," Vance said outside the courtroom. "That investigation raised concerns about the complaining witness' credibility, and we turned over to the defense the information that gave rise to those concerns, as we are technically and legally obligated to do.
"In addition, because our request for substantial bail was based, in part, on our assessment on the strength of our case at the time of the indictment, we disclosed this information to the court today as well," he said. "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."
Vance took no questions and did not specifically address Thompson's claim that prosecutors did not really want to try the case. He insisted the office's duty has always been "to do what is right in every case," and this one was no different.
Even though the charges remain, Friday's proceedings were a victory for the defense.
"It is a great relief," said William Taylor, attorney for Strauss-Kahn. He told reporters that the case shows "how easy it is for people to be charged with serious crimes and for there to be a rush to judgment."
"It is so important in this country that people, especially the media, refrain from judgment until the facts are all in," he said.
Barricades were set up Friday morning outside the Manhattan courthouse to handle the expected crowds of media and spectators awaiting the proceedings against Strauss-Kahn. Reporters also staked out the luxury townhouse where Strauss-Kahn has been living.
The case has rocked the world of international finance and forced Strauss-Kahn out of his position as head of the IMF. Strauss-Kahn was also widely believed to be the leading contender against French President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's elections until the sexual assault charges. Socialist Party chief Martine Aubry announced her own presidential bid this week, after having been expected to throw her weight behind a Strauss-Kahn candidacy.
Strauss-Kahn had been on a personal trip to New York in May and was staying in a luxury hotel when the maid said the incident occurred. He was arrested on a Paris-bound plane at Kennedy Airport.