NEW YORK - Prosecutors have serious questions about the credibility of a hotel housekeeper who has accused former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault, and they are taking the extraordinary step of seeking a substantial reduction in his pricey bail, a person familiar with the case said Thursday.
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters not yet made public in court, told The Associated Press that prosecutors have raised issues about the accuser's credibility in the case against Strauss-Kahn, but would not elaborate.
A law enforcement official who is familiar with the case, but who also spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason, told the AP that prosecutors came to believe during their investigation that the woman had lied about her activities in the hours surrounding the alleged attack and about her own background.The new developments could represent a stunning reversal of fortune for the man whose financial and political career all but disintegrated when he was arrested just six weeks ago, reports CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano.
The New York Police Department, which investigated the case, declined to comment. The woman's lawyer did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
Strauss-Kahn, who faces a court hearing Friday, has been under armed guard in a Manhattan townhouse after posting a total of $6 million in cash bail and bond. He denies the allegations.
Sources close to the defense tell CBS News they expect Strauss-Kahn's bail restrictions will be either substantially reduced or lifted on Friday, indicating he may even be released on his own recognizance. The sources made it clear they do not expect the charges against Strauss-Kahn to be dropped Friday, as it is just a bail hearing.
"There will be serious issues raised by the district attorney's office and us concerning the credibility of the complaining witness," Benjamin Brafman, a lawyer for Strauss-Kahn, told the Wall Street Journal.
The maid told police that Strauss-Kahn chased her down a hallway in his $3,000-a-night suite in New York's Sofitel hotel, tried to pull down her pantyhose and forced her to perform oral sex before she broke free.
The New York Times first reported on its website that investigators uncovered major inconsistencies in the woman's account of her background, citing two law enforcement officials. The Times also reported that senior prosecutors and Strauss-Kahn's lawyers are discussing whether to dismiss the felony charges against him, including attempted rape.
Strauss-Kahn lawyer William W. Taylor would say only that the hearing was to review the bail plan. The Manhattan district attorney's office declined to comment.
Prosecutors had argued against his release in May, citing the violent nature of the alleged offenses and saying his wealth and international connections would make it easy for him to flee.
"The proof against him is substantial. It is continuing to grow every day as the investigation continues," Assistant District Attorney John "Artie" McConnell told the judge. "We have a man who, by his own conduct in this case, has shown a propensity for impulsive criminal conduct."
But according to the law enforcement official who spoke to the AP, prosecutors now believe Strauss-Kahn's accuser lied about various details on her application for asylum in the U.S., including saying she had been raped in her native Guinea a claim she repeated and then recanted during the investigation, the official said.
"She actually recounted the entire story to prosecutors and later said it was false," the official said.
Prosecutors also believe some of her account of her activities in the hours surrounding the alleged attack wasn't true, though they haven't necessarily reached a new conclusion about the incident itself, the official said. They have not decided whether to downgrade the charges, the official said.Quijano reports that investigators also reportedly have evidence that could link the unidentified Guinean woman to drug dealing and money laundering. In one recorded phone call - placed the day after the encounter - she spoke to a man in prison about "the possible benefits of pursuing the charging against" Strauss-Kahn, according to the Times' report.
In early hearings, prosecutors underscored that they thought the evidence against Strauss-Kahn was formidable. And it appeared so at first, the official said.
"In the beginning, it was a strong case. There was a victim and several witnesses and forensic evidence that supported the victim's claim," the official said.
The woman was in Strauss-Kahn's room only briefly before the alleged attack, his semen was found on her uniform, and she quickly reported the alleged assault and told a consistent story about it to investigators and prosecutors, the official said. Prosecutors have also said in court that Strauss-Kahn seemed on surveillance tapes to be in a hurry as he left the hotel, though his lawyers have said he was merely rushing to lunch.
If the case against Strauss-Kahn collapses, it could once again shake up the race for the French presidency. Strauss-Kahn, a prominent Socialist, had been seen as a leading potential contender and challenger to conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy for next year's elections until the New York hotel incident embarrassed Strauss-Kahn's party and left him in the political wilderness.
Socialist Party chief Martine Aubry announced her own presidential bid this week, after having long been expected to throw her weight behind a Strauss-Kahn candidacy.
New doubts about Strauss-Kahn's accuser would also revive speculation of a conspiracy against Strauss-Kahn aimed at torpedoing his presidential chances. Within days of his arrest, a poll suggested that a majority of French think Strauss-Kahn who long had a reputation as a womanizer and was nicknamed "the great seducer" was the victim of a plot.
Strauss-Kahn was held without bail for nearly a week after his May arrest. His lawyers ultimately persuaded a judge to release him by agreeing to extensive and expensive conditions, including an ankle monitor, surveillance cameras and armed guards. He can leave for only for court, weekly religious services and visits to doctors and his lawyers, and prosecutors must be notified at least six hours before he goes anywhere.
The security measures were estimated to cost him about $200,000 a month, on top of the $50,000-a-month rent on a town house in trendy TriBeCa. He settled there after a hasty and fraught househunt: A plan to rent an apartment in a tony building on Manhattan's Upper East Side fell through after residents complained about the hubbub as reporters and police milled around the building.
Under New York law, judges base bail decisions on factors including defendants' characters, financial resources and criminal records, as well as the strength of the case against them all intended to help gauge how likely they are to flee if released.
Defendants and prosecutors can raise the issue of bail at any point in a case. It's common, if asking a judge to revisit a bail decision, to argue that new information or new proposed conditions change how one or more of the factors should be viewed.
Strauss-Kahn's lawyers have said the encounter wasn't forcible, and that they have unreleased information that could "gravely undermine the credibility" of the housekeeper. The defense was using private investigators to aggressively check out the victim's background and her story, but the Times reported that it was investigators for the prosecution who uncovered discrepancies.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said the detectives investigating the case found the maid's story believable.
"Obviously, the credibility of the complainant is a factor in cases of this nature," Kelly said in May. "One of the things they're trained to look for, and what was reported to me early on, was that the complainant was credible."
The woman's lawyer has said she is prepared to testify despite a "smear campaign" against her.
The Associated Press generally does not identify accusers in sex crime cases unless they agree to it.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, was in New York on a personal trip when the maid made her accusations. He left the hotel shortly after the alleged assault to have lunch with a relative, his attorneys have said.
During his initial bail hearings, prosecutors noted that Strauss-Kahn was arrested on a Paris-bound plane at Kennedy Airport, and that they could not compel his return from France if he fled. His lawyers have underscored that it was a long-planned flight, and they've said he wants to return to court to clear his name.
He resigned his IMF post after his arrest.
An updated, authorized biography of Strauss-Kahn was released in French bookstores this week with new material addressing the New York incident and claims of sexual assault against him by a French novelist. It includes interviews with his wife and sister and appears to be a vehicle for a vigorous defense of the former IMF chief.
The biography was initially published two weeks before the May incident.