New York judge dropped all criminal sexual assault charges against ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Tuesday after prosecutors lost faith in the credibility of his accuser.
But the formal end of the case awaited the outcome of a last-ditch emergency appeal.
New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus accepted the prosecutors' request for dismissal of all charges. The move left the man once seen as the leading contender to be the next president of France close to freedom and the chance to try to rebuild his tarnished political career.
The former head of the International Monetary Fund appeared in court with his wife Anne Sinclair by his side and the pair left the hearing smiling, amid a throng of media.
Strauss-Kahn was not yet free to return to France, after New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus stayed his dismissal of the case for an emergency appeal.
A lawyer for the accuser, hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo, had requested a special prosecutor to continue the criminal case. Earlier on Tuesday, Obus dismissed the request. But Diallo's lawyers appealed that decision. Obus said the appeal's court would rule on that later on Tuesday, meaning Strauss-Kahn must await that verdict before he is free to return to France.
Prosecutors with the Manhattan District Attorney's office on Monday outlined how they lost faith in the accuser, hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo, a 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea who alleged Strauss-Kahn attacked her in his luxury hotel suite and forced her to perform oral sex.
While her account of the assault remained steadfast, Diallo told a series of lies about her past and about what happened immediately after the incident in the $3,000-a-night suite in New York's Sofitel hotel on May 14, undermining her credibility, prosecutors said.
Physical evidence was unable to prove lack of consent, leaving the case hinging on the believability of the accuser. But with her testimony changing again and again and as more and more lies about her past emerged, prosecutors concluded in a 25-page filing, "If we do not believe her beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot ask a jury to do so."