Todd Heisler/The New York Times
By JOHN ELIGON
Published: July 1, 2011
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, who is accused of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper, was released from house arrest on Friday as the case against him moved closer to dismissal after prosecutors told a Manhattan judge that the credibility of his accuser was in serious question.
Prosecutors acknowledged that there were troubling revelations and glaring inconsistencies in various accounts given by the 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 prompted debate about morals, the treatment of women and the American justice system. Prosecutors said that they still believed there was evidence to support the notion that Mr. Strauss-Kahn had forced the woman to perform oral sex, but that inconsistencies in her past and in her account of the moments following the episode could make it extremely difficult to persuade jurors to believe her.
The comments that followed the quick court action illuminated the complex, often shifting relationship among the three legal interests in the case. Lawyers for Mr. Strauss-Kahn on Friday praised the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., for “doing what is appropriate”; Kenneth P. Thompson, a lawyer for the housekeeper, accused Mr. Vance of being “too afraid” to try the case; and Mr. Vance defended how his office had handled the case, which is by far the highest-profile of his year-and-a-half tenure.
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 in her background.
The housekeeper admitted to prosecutors that she had lied about what happened after the encounter on the 28th floor of the hotel, the Sofitel New York. She initially said that after she had been attacked she 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.
What precisely occurred between the woman and Mr. Strauss-Kahn — whether it was an attack or a consensual encounter, as his defense team has suggested — remains known only to the woman and to Mr. Strauss-Kahn.
Prosecutors disclosed that the woman had admitted lying in her application for asylum from Guinea. According to their letter, she “fabricated the statement with the assistance of a male who provided her with a cassette recording” that she memorized. She also said that her claim that she had been the victim of a gang rape in Guinea was a lie.
The woman also acknowledged that she had misrepresented her income to qualify for her housing, and that she had declared a friend’s child as a dependent on tax returns — in addition to her own daughter — to increase her tax refund.
Mr. Thompson, the woman’s lawyer, gave a lengthy retort outside the courtroom in which he conceded that there were problems with her credibility, but insisted that she had still been the victim of an attack and that her version of it had never wavered. He said some evidence, like bruising she had sustained, was consistent with a nonconsensual encounter. And he said her decision to clean a room afterward was consistent with someone who was confused and upset.
“Our concern is that the Manhattan district attorney is too afraid to try this case,” Mr. Thompson said. “We believe he’s afraid he’s going to lose this high-profile case.”
The prosecutors have not completed their investigation, one official briefed on the matter said, and thus have not made a final determination whether the housekeeper was sexually assaulted. The official said that an examination of the woman after the alleged assault did find vaginal bruising, but that it was not conclusive evidence of a forcible sexual encounter. The woman’s account of what happened inside the hotel suite has been consistent, the official said, aside from minor details of the kind that sometimes vary in the numerous retellings of the same story.
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. Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 62, was considered a strong contender for the French presidency before his arrest. He subsequently 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, “The victim provided very powerful details consistent with violent sexual assault committed by the defendant.”
The case has the potential to affect Mr. Vance’s political fortunes. Outside the courthouse on Friday, he stressed that his office did what it was required to do.
“We believe we have done nothing but to support her,” Mr. Vance said. “Our duty is to do what is right in every case. Our office’s commitment is to the truth and the facts.”
Mr. Strauss-Kahn will now be able to move about the country freely. (He had dinner Friday night at Scalinatella, an upscale restaurant on the Upper East Side.) Although prosecutors will retain his passport, most of his restrictive bail conditions have been lifted. Under those rules, he was required to stay in a Lower Manhattan town house under armed guard and to wear an ankle monitor. He could leave only for certain reasons and had to notify prosecutors when he did.
Benjamin Brafman, a lawyer who has represented Mr. Strauss-Kahn along with William W. Taylor III, said: “I want to commend Cy Vance for doing what is appropriate, for doing what I think took some great courage and personal integrity, to stand up and say this case is not what we thought it was. We are absolutely convinced that while today is a first giant step in the right direction, the next step will be to make a complete dismissal of the charges.”
The letter from the prosecutors did not include everything their investigators had learned about the woman. According to two law enforcement officials familiar with the prosecutors’ inquiry, 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 about $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 the woman was paying hundreds of dollars every month in phone charges to five companies. She 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.
After his hearing, Mr. Strauss-Kahn emerged from court, smiling at the assembled crowds, the expression brightening with each step. Later, at the town house on Franklin Street where he had been under confinement, a gift arrived of over a dozen red, white and blue balloons, accompanied by an inflatable Statue of Liberty.
A note was attached, according to Sean Hershkowitz, of Balloon Saloon in TriBeCa, that said, “Enjoy your freedom on Independence Day.” He added that he had been by a few weeks earlier with a different delivery: an inflatable shark with a chew toy. That gift, Mr. Hershkowitz said, was refused at the door.