Strauss-Kahn cleared after prosecutors admit doubts over maid's claim

Sex assault case a nightmare for my family, says former IMF chief

With two sentences that were as terse as the legal saga that preceded them had been convoluted, Judge Michael Obus yesterday agreed to terminate the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF chief.

"The indictment is dismissed. The security order is vacated," Judge Obus intoned, accepting a motion for dismissal filed by the prosecution on the grounds that the accuser in the case, the Guinean-born hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo, had repeatedly lied to them to the point where proving her claims regarding an alleged sexual assault in a hotel room on 14 May beyond a reasonable doubt appeared impossible.

His words, delivered in a packed lower Manhattan courtroom, signalled an end to a drama that has riveted the international media, consumed Mr Strauss-Kahn's native France – where he was once seen as a likely presidential candidate – and seriously embarrassed the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr. "Our inability to believe the complainant beyond a reasonable doubt means, in good faith, that we could not ask a jury to do that," said assistant district attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon in formally recommending the case be dismissed.

If there was vindication for Mr Strauss-Kahn, it was tinged with the knowledge that the damage done to his reputation may never be repaired. He was expected to head first to his home in Washington with his wife, Anne Sinclair, and thereafter –his passport returned – to Paris or a holiday home in Morocco.

There was little disguising how comprehensively the tables had been turned on Ms Diallo, 33, who through her own misrepresentations had sabotaged the case.

"These past two and a half months have been a nightmare for me and my family," Mr Strauss-Kahn said in a hastily issued statement. "I want to thank all the friends in France and in the United States who have believed in my innocence, and to the thousands of people who sent us their support personally and in writing. I am most deeply grateful to my wife and family who have gone through this ordeal with me."

Even back in July, Mr Vance and his team had grasped that the maid was not nearly as persuasive as originally thought. She was inconsistent about the incident itself. She had mentioned monetary gain in a taped telephone call with a "fiancé" who was in a detention centre in Arizona. When seeking asylum in the US, she had told a story of being gang-raped in Guinea that turned out to be fiction.

Looking back, prosecutors may have moved too fast at the outset, hauling Mr Strauss-Kahn off a plane at JFK Airport and proceeding immediately to seek the indictments, including a charge of attempted rape, from a grand jury. But they did so because of the risk that, had he flown that day, the defendant might never have returned.

Legal commentator and New Yorker journalist Jeffrey Toobin gave Mr Vance credit yesterday for acknowledging the problems with the accuser when they arose and accepting the case was crumbling. "They did not fall in love with their case, so to speak, and thus refuse to recognise evidence that did not comport with their theories," he suggested. "Rather, these prosecutors followed the facts where they led, to the detriment of the high-profile case they had just filed. In this, they were acting in the best traditions of their profession – better late than never."

Yet the sensitivities of the case remain deep, not least because of the perception that will linger in some quarters that a famous man has been let off and a woman who may be a rape victim has been hung out to dry.

Among the chants of a small group of women outside the court before the hearing, the most loudly yelled were "DSK treats women like property" and "Put the rapist on trial, not the victim".

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