A US judge on Tuesday dropped sexual assault charges against former IMF chief and one-time French presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss-Kahn after the hotel maid's case collapsed.
After a spectacular and sordid three-month legal saga that has captivated the world and turned French politics on its head, prosecutors gave up after saying the accuser's lies had damaged her credibility beyond repair.
In a packed Manhattan courthouse, judge Michael Obus agreed to drop all charges and dismissed a last-ditch attempt by the maid's lawyers to have a special prosecutor appointed.
But Strauss-Kahn still needs to wait 30 days as a higher court considers an appeal on the special prosecutor. It was unclear if Strauss-Kahn would be able to travel to France until the decision.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, looked visibly relieved as he left the building accompanied by millionaire French wife Anne Sinclair, who has stood firmly by his side ever since the sensational sex scandal erupted in May.
The former French presidential front-runner was silent before the cameras but issued a statement in which he thanked his supporters as he dealt with his "nightmare."
"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," he said.
"I am most deeply grateful to my wife and family who have gone through this ordeal with me," he said.
Even if he returns to France, Strauss-Kahn's reputation has been badly sullied by an affair that forced him to resign as head of the International Monetary Fund and put his French presidential dreams on hold.
Demonstrators, many of them women, hurled slogans outside of the courtroom. One, referring to Strauss-Kahn by his initials by which he is known in France, shouted: "DSK, you're a sick bastard and your wife is even sicker."
Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said she did not take the decision to drop the sex crime charges "lightly."
"The defendant engaged in a horrid sexual encounter with the defendant," she said, but added: "The case rises or falls on her testimony."
The accuser, 32-year-old chambermaid Nafissatou Diallo, "severely undermined her reliability as a witness in this case," she said.
Defense lawyer Benjamin Brafman praised the "commendable and courageous" decision," which he called "something that is compelled by the facts but nonetheless something that takes a great deal of integrity" by the prosecution.
The sensational case garnered world attention on May 14 when Strauss-Kahn was escorted by New York police from his first class seat on an Air France plane moments before its departure for Paris.
As pictures of the respected international banker, shackled and unshaven, were beamed around the globe, it emerged that he stood accused of the brutal attempted rape of a hotel chambermaid in his plush Manhattan suite.
The case began to unravel weeks later when prosecutors announced that Diallo, a Guinean immigrant, had been caught lying on her asylum application form, including about a gang rape she had suffered back home in Guinea.
In addition, she was said to have discussed Strauss-Kahn's wealth in a telephone conversation with a Guinean friend currently held in a US prison, and to have changed sworn testimony to the grand jury considering the case.
In their 25-page motion filed on Monday asking the judge to dismiss all charges, prosecutors said "their cumulative effect would be devastating."
Diallo was "persistently, and at times inexplicably, untruthful in describing matters of both great and small significance," they said.
"The nature and number of the complainant's falsehoods leave us unable to credit her version of events beyond a reasonable doubt, whatever the truth may be about the encounter" at the hotel.
Although there was initial forensic and medical evidence that suggested a forcible encounter, the assistant district attorneys handling the case, Illuzzi-Orbon and John McConnell, said their motion made no factual findings.
"We simply no longer have confidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty," they said.
In a "he-said, she-said" case, a jury needs to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt and, legal experts say, Diallo's credibility on the witness stand was likely to have been weakened beyond repair.
A lawyer for the maid hit out angrily after being told of the decision to drop the case on Monday at the prosecutors' offices in Manhattan.
"The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, has denied the right to a woman to get justice in a rape case," Kenneth Thompson said after the brief meeting, which lasted less than 15 minutes.
Thompson, whose bid to have Vance replaced by a special prosecutor was flatly rejected by the judge on Tuesday, accused the district attorney of having "turned his back" on forensic, medical and other physical evidence.
Diallo, wearing black trousers and a beige jacket, and accompanied by several hulking private security guards, said nothing.
In an interview last month, Diallo recounted the incident, saying Strauss-Kahn emerged naked from a shower to "grab my breasts" and despite her pleas, forced her head down to his penis.
He could now in theory return to frontline French politics, but no one back in France is expecting a prominent role.
"I don't think he can hope for a center stage role in French politics now," said political scientist Gerard Grunberg of the prestigious Sciences-Po school in Paris.
"His public image is much deteriorated and the Socialist Party and its leaders must be mad at him for having missed this moment of opportunity. Neither the public nor the party want to see him back on the frontline."
His legal travails are also far from over.
Diallo has filed a civil suit seeking unspecified damages against Strauss-Kahn. And in another case back in France, 32-year-old writer Tristane Banon has filed a complaint alleging the Socialist politician tried to rape her after luring her to a Paris flat in 2003.
Strauss-Kahn has announced his intention to sue Banon for defamation, alleging she invented the story to help publicize her writing.