NEW YORK — A judge agreed Thursday to free former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn from a New York City jail on the condition that he post $1 million in bail and remain under house arrest, under the watch of armed guards, at a private apartment in Manhattan.
The 62-year-old banker and diplomat wore an expression of relief after Supreme Court Justice Michael J. Obus announced his decision in a packed Manhattan courtroom. Later, he blew a kiss toward his wife.
The ruling didn’t free Strauss-Kahn immediately. Authorities need time to review and approve the security arrangements involved in his home detention, which lawyers said would be at an apartment rented by his wife. They did not disclose the location of the home.
Strauss-Kahn will also have to take out a $5 million insurance bond. It’s not believed the wealthy banker will have any problem meeting the financial conditions of his release from the bleak Rikers Island jail complex on an island in the East River.
“He’s going back to Rikers tonight and we expect him to be released tomorrow,” said William Taylor, one of his attorneys.
His political career in shambles and his leadership of the IMF a memory, Strauss-Kahn was formally indicted at Thursday’s hearing on charges that he sexually abused a maid at a Manhattan hotel.
Prosecutors had opposed his release at his first bail hearing Monday, saying his wealth and international connections would make it easy for him to flee.
A prosecutor began Thursday’s hearing by announcing that a grand jury had found enough evidence for an indictment, a procedural step that elevates the seriousness of the charge. Without it, authorities would have been unable to detain him for longer than a week.
“The proof against him is substantial. It is continuing to grow every day as the investigation continues,” said Assistant District Attorney John “Artie” McConnell. “We have a man who, by his own conduct in this case, has shown a propensity for impulsive criminal conduct.”
Strauss arrived for the hearing wearing a grey suit and an open blue shirt. As he entered, he turned to give a quick smile to his daughter and wife, the French television journalist Anne Sinclair, seated in the gallery.
Similar house arrest arrangements have been made for other high-profile defendants in the city, most notably Bernard Madoff, the Ponzi scheme mastermind who stole billions of dollars from his clients.
Taylor called the arrangement “restrictive,” although he suggested few precautions were necessary.
“In our view, no bail is required to confirm Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s appearance. He is an honourable man. He will appear in this court and anywhere else the court directs, and he has only one interest at this time, and that is to clear his name,” Taylor said.
Though the defence team’s initial request for bail Monday was denied, it made additional arguments before a new judge, Obus, for the first time. The judge oversees all criminal courts in Manhattan.
In France, a Socialist lawmaker and longtime ally, Francois Pupponi, expressed relief at the decision to allow Strauss-Kahn to leave jail.
“There’s finally a bit of good news in a terrible week,” he said on BFM-TV. “We were no longer expecting good news.”
Strauss-Kahn resigned as managing director of the International Monetary Fund late Wednesday, saying he needed to focus on clearing his name.
Scores of reporters lined up outside the courtroom door before the hearing, with a huge crowd of journalists and cameras poised outside the building. State court system spokesman David Bookstaver said the media throng was one of the biggest at the courthouse since Mark David Chapman was arrested in the 1980 killing of John Lennon.
Sinclair emerged from a black town car shortly before the scheduled hearing time. As she was rushed into the courthouse by security officers, one of her shoes slipped off as she was being led up some stairs. She struggled for a moment to get it back on as court guards shouted at a jostling scrum of photographers.
“Are you confident?” One journalist shouted. Sinclair stared straight ahead and did not respond.
Strauss-Kahn is accused of attacking a 32-year-old housekeeper Saturday afternoon at his Manhattan hotel suite. The West African immigrant told police that he chased her down a hallway, forced her to perform oral sex and tried to remove her stockings.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. called the charges “extremely serious.”
In his resignation letter, released by the IMF executive board, Strauss-Kahn denied the allegations against him, but said he would quit to protect the institution.
The political wrangling over who will succeed Strauss-Kahn at the IMF already has begun. European officials, including Germany’s chancellor, the European Commission and France’s finance minister, have been arguing that his replacement should be European.
Some authorities from China and Brazil have said it is time to break Europe’s traditional dominance over the position and appoint someone from a developing nation. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has asked for an “open process,” without mentioning any specific candidates.