04/09/2011 02:54 BST | Updated 03/11/2011 05:12 GMT

Dominique Strauss-Kahn Returns To France Following Collapse Of Sexual Assault Case

PRESS ASSOCIATION -- Former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn arrived in his native France today, for the first time since the collapse of a sensational sexual assault case that cost him his job and possibly his presidential ambitions.

Mr Strauss-Kahn, 62, and his wife were seen arriving at the Air France terminal at John F Kennedy International Airport in New york last night, dogged by a crowd of cameras.

The airline's computerised flight status system reported that the flight departed at 7.29pm local time (12.29am today BST).

The couple did not say where they were going as they headed for security, but French media had reported that Mr Strauss-Kahn was expected to board a plane to Paris yesterday.

The couple had left his rented New York City town home earlier in the day with his daughter Camille, carrying about a half-dozen pieces of luggage.

It is the diplomat and economist's first return to his native France since his May arrest on charges of forcing a hotel housekeeper to perform a sex act and trying to rape her.

Mr Strauss-Kahn spent almost a week in jail, six weeks on house arrest and nearly two more months barred from leaving the country, before Manhattan prosecutors dropped the case last week, saying they no longer trusted the maid, Guinean immigrant Nafissatou Diallo.

Ms Diallo, 33, is continuing to press her claims in a civil lawsuit. Mr Strauss-Kahn denies the allegations.

Mr Strauss-Kahn has been free to travel internationally since his passport was returned late last week. He had told reporters he was eager to return to France, but he first went to Washington DC on Monday to bid farewell to former IMF colleagues at the lending agency's headquarters. He had resigned days after his arrest.

He returned on Thursday to the £30,860-a-month Manhattan home he had rented for his house arrest.

Until his arrest, Mr Strauss-Kahn was considered the Socialist Party's front-runner to take on conservative French president Nicolas Sarkozy next year.

Socialists have rejoiced in the dismissal of the criminal case against Mr Strauss-Kahn, but few observers in France expect a political return from him any time soon.

"This is a man who has suffered. It is a man who will obviously take some time to get his bearings," his biographer, Michel Taubmann, said.

Mr Strauss-Kahn will also have to contend with a sexual assault allegation that surfaced in France after his New York arrest.

Authorities are investigating novelist Tristane Banon's complaint that Mr Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her while she was interviewing him in 2002 - an incident her mother, a regional Socialist official, has said she discouraged her from reporting at the time but is now encouraging her to pursue.

Strauss-Kahn's lawyers have called Ms Banon's account "imaginary".