A New York judge has dropped all criminal sexual assault charges against ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn 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 left the court smiling with his wife Anne Sinclair by his side, saying in a statement his life had been a "nightmare" in recent months and that he looked forward to returning to more normal times.
Strauss-Kahn is now free to return to France as New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus also denied a request for a special prosecutor to continue the criminal case.
Prosecutors from the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance yesterday 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."
City A.M. Reporter