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Strauss-Kahn returns, with baggage

Lands in France with future in politics up in air

Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his wife, Anne Sinclair, arrived in France yesterday for the first time since the former IMF chief was accused of attempted rape in May. Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his wife, Anne Sinclair, arrived in France yesterday for the first time since the former IMF chief was accused of attempted rape in May. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)
By Greg Keller
Associated Press / September 5, 2011

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PARIS - Dominique Strauss-Kahn received a mixed welcome yesterday as he returned home to France for the first time since attempted rape accusations by a New York hotel maid unleashed an international scandal that dashed his chances for the French presidency.

New York prosecutors dropped their case against Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, because of questions about the maid’s credibility.

But the affair cost Strauss-Kahn his job at the helm of the IMF and exposed his personal life to worldwide scrutiny that has stained his image and left the French divided over what he should do next. His high-profile return home reflects how large he looms here.

Smiling and waving, he stepped off an Air France flight at Charles de Gaulle Airport a different man from the one who, just four months ago, had been the pollsters’ favorite to beat President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s presidential elections.

Few expect Strauss-Kahn to return to French politics soon - his Socialist Party is already in the throes of its presidential primary - but his supporters have been eagerly awaiting his return after a monthslong legal drama in the United States that they saw as unfairly hostile to him.

Jack Lang, a former Socialist government minister and a neighbor of Strauss-Kahn, said that his friend would play a “very important role, not necessarily in the campaign, but in the life of France, the life of Europe.’’

Lang said that the French people will eventually forget the scandal. “What scandal? In my eyes, he is innocent,’’ Lang said.

As head of the IMF, Strauss-Kahn was widely praised for his management of the institution and its role in the European debt crisis, an expertise some in France may covet as the problems of deficit and debt deepen.

Residents of Sarcelles, a working-class Paris suburb where Strauss-Kahn used to be mayor, were largely enthusiastic and empathetic about his return.

“I’m happy for him,’’ resident Laurent Giaoui said. “It’s the end of an ordeal. Now . . . we should leave him alone a little bit.’’

But a prominent member of Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party, Xavier Bertrand, shrugged off Strauss-Kahn’s appearance in Paris.

“Like many French people, I have lots of others worries in my head,’’ he said on Europe-1 radio. “I have a hard time imagining’’ Strauss-Kahn back in politics.

Strauss-Kahn flew to Paris from New York’s JFK Airport early yesterday and gave a brief wave upon leaving the arrivals hall. Pushing a luggage cart, he did not speak to the large crowd.

His wife, respected former TV personality Anne Sinclair, was at his side, beaming widely. Riot police protected him and the area. The two then drove to one of their homes, on Paris’s tony Place des Vosges. The crush of reporters was so thick that Strauss-Kahn had trouble reaching and opening his front door.

The last time he tried to take an Air France flight out of JFK, Strauss-Kahn was pulled out of first class by police minutes before takeoff. They were investigating the maid’s claim that, hours earlier, Strauss-Kahn had forced her to perform oral sex and tried to rape her.

He quit his IMF post and spent almost a week in jail, then six weeks under house arrest. He had been barred from leaving the country for nearly two months before Manhattan prosecutors dropped the case last month, saying they no longer trusted the maid, Guinean immigrant Nafissatou Diallo.

Diallo is continuing to press her claims in a lawsuit. Strauss-Kahn denies the allegations.

Strauss-Kahn faces another investigation in France based on accusations by French novelist Tristane Banon, who says he tried to rape her during an interview in 2003. He calls the claim “imaginary.’’

Banon’s mother, Anne Mansouret, said that Strauss-Kahn’s return “is a good thing for my daughter’s complaint because he will have to answer to police.’’

Banon says she did not file a complaint after the incident because her mother, a regional Socialist official, urged her not to.

Mansouret, who now says she regrets that decision, called it “profoundly indecent’’ that Strauss-Kahn’s homecoming was like that of a “star.’’

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