ATTENTION in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sex case shifted to the accuser, a New York hotel maid who now faces mounting credibility problems, as the ex-IMF chief enjoyed freedom from strict bail conditions.
The former French politician remained in his rented townhouse in Lower Manhattan with his wife Anne Sinclair, after 48 hours of freedom that saw him take quick advantage of the lifting of strict bail conditions.
Strauss-Kahn was unseen, though buoyed by a New York judge’s order to end all restrictions on him except foreign travel, he enjoyed an excursion for several hours in the afternoon on Saturday, chased by an army of news teams.
Sinclair, wearing jeans and a black jacket, left the townhouse on Sunday afternoon and smiled at reporters before disappearing into a black sedan that came to pick her up.
Unlike previous occasions there were no bodyguards, and a New York police cruiser that had been parked there for weeks had vanished.
Sinclair, followed by TV crews on motorcycle, visited New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
As prosecutors scrambled to salvage some sort of case against the once high-flying head of the world’s top lender, Strauss-Kahn’s defence team denied a New York tabloid’s allegations he engaged in sex for money with the hotel maid.
“There was no dispute between the parties because there was no discussion about money,” the team, led by lawyers Benjamin Brafman and William Taylor, said in a statement.
The New York Post reported on Sunday that Strauss-Kahn and his accuser, a 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea, engaged in sex acts in his luxury suite, and that afterwards there “was an expectation of money after the fact, but he was dismissive”.
The Post, citing a source close to the defence’s investigation team, has also said the maid often traded sex for money with male guests at the Sofitel hotel.
While the charges against the 62-year-old stand, the case has nearly imploded after prosecutors acknowledged their investigations of the accuser found she lied to a grand jury about the case.
In a letter to defence lawyers, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said the woman had provided a “false” narrative of her life – including a gang rape which she later admitted never occurred – as part of her application process for US asylum.
Among other details gleaned about the maid were her possible links to criminal activities, including drug dealing and money laundering, a law enforcement official told yhe New York Times.
Within a day of the alleged rape attempt, the maid was recorded speaking on the phone with a boyfriend jailed for possessing 180 kilogrammes of marijuana and discussing the benefits of pursuing charges, according to the newspaper.
When the conversation was translated from Fulani, the maid’s native language, investigators became concerned.
“She says words to the effect of, ‘Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing,'” the Times quoted one of the officials as saying.
The paper said the man was one of several individuals who made multiple cash deposits totalling around $100,000 into the woman’s bank account over the last two years.
Strauss-Kahn’s black Mercedes sedan made several attempts to duck away from reporters on Saturday as the couple took in New York, including a likely tour of the Museum of Modern Art during their outing, as Sinclair held a guide from the museum upon returning home.
“He looked extremely happy – he’s free,” said a museum worker who saw them there, quoted by the Post.
An older couple later visited the townhouse, carrying bags that seemed to be filled with groceries. The woman wore a white summer dress and the man a blue suit. Both had dined with the Strauss-Kahns the night before at a posh Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side, running a tab of around $600.
It was a stunning reversal of fortune for a man who spent days locked up in New York’s tough Rikers Island jail in May.
The sensational twists also raised hopes among Strauss-Kahn’s ardent supporters that the case will collapse and the Socialist party favourite will return to frontline politics, possibly even as a candidate to challenge French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012 elections.
In a hint of just how possible a Strauss-Kahn bid may be, fellow socialist Segolene Royal, a candidate in the presidential vote, said she had no problem delaying the process to make room for him.
The current deadline for declaring in the Socialist Party primary is July 13 — five days before Strauss-Kahn’s next scheduled court appearance in New York.
US authorities still hold his passport pending possible trial, meaning that Strauss-Kahn cannot travel outside of the United States, though his $1 million bail and $5 million bond will now be returned.
Despite the maid’s shattered credibility, Vance vowed to continue the investigations until prosecutors had uncovered all the facts and noted that charges had not been dropped.
Legal analysts, however, said the case was likely dead.
According to the accuser’s initial grand jury testimony, she fled Strauss-Kahn’s luxury hotel suite immediately after the May 14 attack and waited in the hallway before informing a supervisor.
But, prosecutors revealed, the woman subsequently changed her story, admitting she actually cleaned another room and even returned to start cleaning Strauss-Kahn’s suite before alerting her bosses.
The maid’s lawyer Kenneth Thompson admitted his client had made “some mistakes,” but insisted forensic evidence would prove Strauss-Kahn was guilty of a brutal sexual assault.