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updated 7/5/2011 1:09:11 PM ET 2011-07-05T17:09:11

Dominique Strauss-Kahn faced a new sexual assault investigation on Tuesday when a young French writer filed a complaint alleging that he tried to rape her during a 2002 book interview — a dizzying turn of events just as the former IMF chief's fortunes seemed to be growing brighter.

With France debating his possible return to presidential politics, Strauss-Kahn swiftly hit back at author Tristane Banon's plans to take him to court over the attempted rape accusations, labeling her account "imaginary" and countering with his own plans to file a criminal complaint of slander.

The sordid exchange may have deep ramifications for the 2012 presidential race in France, where the surprise weakening of the sexual assault case against Strauss-Kahn in New York last week sparked a fierce debate about whether he should return to politics if the American case against him collapses completely.

Before Banon's announcement, polls showed voters were evenly split about whether Strauss-Kahn, 62, should try to revive a career that until recently had him on track to take on conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy in the race to be France's next leader.

"DSK Back?" the left-leaning daily Liberation asked on its front page Monday.

Some see him as victim
Some politicians and pundits see Strauss-Kahn, who won plaudits for his stewardship of the International Monetary Fund, as a victim of overzealous American prosecutors and journalists who denied him the presumption of innocence when a maid accused him of forcing her to perform oral sex in his Manhattan hotel room.

Video: Prosecutors focus on maid in Strauss-Kahn case (on this page)

"He was crushed, then, by that fraction of the American judicial apparatus that, by putting Dominique Strauss-Kahn in stocks, by humiliating him before the entire world, by ruthlessly pursuing him, has probably ruined his life," celebrity philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy wrote on The Daily Beast website.

Others have expressed disgust with allegations that the Socialist politician routinely subjected women to crude sexual advances, and lived a luxurious lifestyle out of touch with ordinary French people, even in the glare of press attention in New York.

"Between his luxury tastes and other subjects, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has not offered a very positive image recently," Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno, a Sarkozy ally, said on Europe-1 radio.

Strauss-Kahn had been living under house arrest in a $50,000-a-month town house in the trendy TriBeCa neighborhood. Once released, Strauss-Kahn had dinner at a pricey Manhattan restaurant.

"To see Strauss-Kahn freed then straight away eat in a luxury restaurant with friends, that makes me sick," Banon told the magazine L'Express in an account published Monday. "I only want one thing, that he comes back to France, with his presumption of innocence, so that we can go before a court."

Story: Strauss-Kahn free from house arrest; charges stand

'It finished very badly'
Banon, 31, said on a 2007 television show that she had been attacked five years earlier by a politician she had interviewed for a book in his apartment. She later identified the man as Strauss-Kahn.

"It finished very violently," she said on the television show. "I kicked him. He opened my bra. He tried to undo my jeans. It finished very badly."

Lawyer David Koubbi said Banon had been dissuaded from filing charges by her mother, a regional councilor in Strauss-Kahn's Socialist party. Her mother, Anne Mansouret, admitted in a French television interview in May that she had urged her daughter not to file a complaint after the incident.

Banon came forward again after Strauss-Kahn's May 14 arrest in New York, but Koubbi said his client had no intention of pressing charges while the American prosecution was going on because the two cases should be kept separate.

Koubbi denied that decision was connected to the weakening of the U.S. case.

Timeline: Dominique Strauss-Kahn (on this page)

"It is all the same to me what happens in the hours and days to come in the United States," he said.

Strauss-Kahn's lawyers said that Strauss-Kahn "has always said that the incident described by Ms Banon since 2007 is imaginary."

"He notes that this complaint comes quite conveniently right at the moment when there is no longer the slightest doubt about the false nature of the accusations against him in the United States," attorneys Henri Leclerc and Frederique Baulieu said in a joint statement.

Koubbi did not respond to phone and text messages left asking about the slander accusation.

Now that a complaint has been filed, a prosecutor can conduct a preliminary investigation to determine if there is enough evidence to support charges against Strauss-Kahn.

Preliminary charges are followed by a lengthier investigation, sometimes lasting years, to determine if the case should go to trial before a judge.

The same process would apply to the slander complaint against Banon.

Prosecutors could decide not to pursue the case against Strauss-Kahn if they find evidence he engaged in forcible sexual contact that fell short of attempted rape. The statute of limitations on the charge of "sexual assault" is three years, while attempted rape charges can be filed for as many as 10 years after the alleged crime.

Story: Imperfect accusers common in sex assault cases

Strauss-Kahn has relinquished his passport to authorities in New York. Another court hearing would be needed for him to get it back. His next appearance is scheduled for July 18 — five days after the deadline for candidates to register in the Socialist Party primary.

Disagreement among Socialists
"Let's acknowledge that if Strauss-Kahn decides to come back as a candidate on our side, no one will try to oppose him using some calendar," Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry said before Banon's announcement.

The Socialist Party's spokesman appeared to disagree, an indication of the confusion and disagreement within the party about betting the opposition's 2012 chances on Strauss-Kahn.

"We can't base the (political) calendar, which involves millions of French people, on the American judicial calendar," party spokesman Benoit Hamon said Monday.

A poll released Monday found that 51 percent of French people found that Strauss-Kahn no longer had a political future, versus 42 percent who thought he did.

The telephone poll of 956 adults selected as a demographically representative sample was conducted July 1 and 2 by the Ipsos Public Affairs institute for the magazine Le Point. No margin of error was provided.

Another poll out Sunday conducted by Harris Interactive poll for the newspaper Le Parisien showed 49 percent of those surveyed saying 'yes' to the question "Without prejudging his innocence or guilt, do you want DSK to come back to the French political scene one day?"

At least some were won over by what they perceived as his mistreatment in the U.S.

"I had no intention of supporting him in the first round, but if he returns to French political life I will certainly vote for him," Jean-Rene Gendre, 63, said as he went shopping in central Paris. "What happened to him I think was a terrible manipulation."

Forty-five percent of respondents to the Harris poll said they didn't want Strauss-Kahn back in politics and six percent didn't answer the question. The agency asked a demographically representative group of 1,000 people 18 years old and older to fill out the July 1-2 online survey. No margin of error was provided.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Prosecutors focus on maid in Strauss-Kahn case

  1. Closed captioning of: Prosecutors focus on maid in Strauss-Kahn case

    >>> new details this morning about the apparent unraveling of the sexual assault case against former imf chief dominick strauss-kahn . this just days after he was suddenly released from house arrest . nbc's jeff rossen is with us with more. jeff, good morning.

    >> willie, good morning to you. he really hit the town this weekend. literally overnight dominick strauss-kahn went from ankle bracelets to freedom. he can go anywhere he wants in the country but yet he remains in new york near the scene of the alleged crime. this morning we're learning more about the case and hotel made sto maid story. within hours of his release, dominick strauss-kahn flashed a smile and took his wife to dinner. the man who sat in a kril at rikers as an accused sexual predator is out and about. chased by the media through city streets he dined at this exclusive upper east side restaurant, reportedly racking up a $700 tab. saturday he reportedly had lunch at the museum of modern art , before returning to his $50,000 a month townhouse. now new details why the case against him may be collapsing. prosecutors say the hotel maid who accused strauss-kahn of sexual assault repeatedly lied. in fact, just after the enkoubtser, according to the "new york times," she called her boyfriend, an alleged drug dealer in prison, telling him, don't worry, this guy has a lot of money. i know what i'm doing.

    >> it is a fact that the victim here made some mistakes, but that doesn't mean she's not a rape victim.

    >> reporter: the maid still stands behind her story that strauss-kahn attacked her but in a letter to the defense team prosecutors admit there are holes in her story. for example, she didn't report the attack as soon as it happened, as she first claimed. instead, she proceeded to clean a nearby room and then returned to suite 2806. stra strauss-kahn 's room. and began to xleen that suite before she reported the incident to her supervisor. they also say she lied about her past, telling investigators as she cried she had been the victim of a gang rape in her native ginny later admitting she made it up and fabricated the details.

    >> any one lie would cause her credibility to be at issue. the problem is that you have lie after lie and they are not just lies about her past, but they are lies about what happens around this case. it's game over.

    >> reporter: the da hasn't dropped the charges but experts say it's just a matter of time.

    >> as with every case, our office's commitment is to the truth and the facts, and that will govern how we proceed.

    >> before his arrest, dominick strauss-kahn was a strong contender for french president . in a new poll, 49% of voters in france would actually welcome him back to politics. of course, he can't go back there yet until the charges are officially charged because the authorities still have his passport. willie, he's back in court later this month.

    >> amazing twist in that case. jeff, thanks so much.

Timeline: Dominique Strauss-Kahn

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