PARIS — Dominique Strauss-Kahn's allies are hoping new doubt about the New York chambermaid who accused of him of sexual assault can help revive his 2012 French presidential bid just as it convinced a judge Friday to free him from house arrest without bail.
Lies by the housekeeper during questioning by investigators forced prosecutors to return to court to reassess the strict house arrest conditions that Strauss-Kahn has been under.
The decision by the court to allow Strauss-Kahn to go free without bail — it continues to hold his passport — signals that the accuser's questionable credibility may impact the charges against the defendant although they were neither dropped nor reduced. —
France was riveted by the surprising development, and welcomed by many — not only those who want to see Socialist Strauss-Kahn replace conservative Nicolas Sarkozy as president, but also many who feel the American media and public have unfairly assumed the 62-year-old Frenchman is guilty.
"Those who know Dominique Strauss-Kahn will not be surprised by this evolution of events," one of Strauss-Kahn's French lawyers and a friend for 40 years, Leon Lef Forster, told The Associated Press before the court appearance. "What he was accused of has no relation to his personality. It was something that was not credible."
Upending party politics
Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund and a prominent member of France's Socialist Party, was considered a leading potential contender for next year's presidential election in France before he was charged with attempted rape in May. He denies the allegations.
His arrest upended French politics and appeared to dash his ambitions for France's top job. While he hadn't formally declared his candidacy, for months polls had suggested that Strauss-Kahn would beat Sarkozy and enjoyed greater popularity than any other Socialist.Story: Strauss-Kahn case: Accuser’s call to boyfriend alarmed prosecutors
There was quickly speculation that the Socialist Party's primary election to choose a candidate might be delayed. The deadline for Socialists to declare candidacy for the party's presidential primary is July 13. The primary vote is scheduled for October.
"I have asked my colleagues if we can have a pause of decency in the primary process," Michele Sabban, a Socialist politician who has long known Strauss-Kahn said on BFM TV after his court appearance — covered in special reports on a handful of TV stations.
Hope was so high that some politicians speculated that the entire affair might be wrapped up immediately. The French and U.S. justice system are vastly different.
The chief of the Socialist Party, Martine Aubry, said before the hearing reports of developments in favor of Strauss-Kahn brought her "immense joy."
"I hope that the American justice system establishes all the truth tonight and allows Dominique to get out of this nightmare," she told reporters.
Aubry announced this week that she will seek the Socialist nomination for president. She and Strauss-Kahn had been rumored to be discussing some kind of joint ticket for the election.
Sarkozy, who is widely expected to seek re-election despite dismal approval ratings, did not comment publicly Friday about the new legal developments in New York.
The prospect that Strauss-Kahn could be released from his strict house arrest was greeted with satisfaction in France in part because many here felt that the case had stained the country's reputation.
French viewers were shocked to see the man they thought might be their next president shackled and paraded before New York reporters. It's illegal in France to broadcast images of a suspect in handcuffs before a conviction.
Another Socialist, Jean-Marie Le Guen, said on France-Inter radio that Strauss-Kahn "will be present in the presidential campaign" and that "the political stakes are changed by this event."
"All those who dragged him in the mud are perhaps seeing things differently today, " he said on France-Info radio.
Le Guen was among many French people, both supporters and critics of Strauss-Kahn, who had claimed the IMF leader was the target of a political conspiracy to torpedo his presidential chances. Within days of his arrest, a poll suggested that a majority of French thought Strauss-Kahn was the victim of a plot.
Other French politicians and commentators urged caution Friday, noting that the case against Strauss-Kahn is ongoing and that it may be premature to jump to conclusions about France's presidential elections, held in two rounds next April in May.
Strauss-Kahn had been under armed guard in a Manhattan town house after posting a total of $6 million in cash bail and bond.
His status abruptly was changed to free without bail after the accuser admitted to prosecutors she had made up a story of being gang raped and beaten in her homeland of Guinea to enhance her application for political asylum, prosecutors said in a letter to defense lawyers.
She also misrepresented what she did immediately after the alleged attack and changed her story "on a variety of additional topics," the letter said.
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