By Pauline Mevel and Noeleen Walder
PARIS/NEW YORK, July 5 (Reuters) - Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was hit with a complaint of attempted rape in France on Tuesday in a new hurdle to any political comeback even as the U.S. sex assault case against him appeared to be falling apart.
New York prosecutors were re-examining their case against the potential French presidential candidate after discovering the accuser, a 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea, had lied repeatedly about her background, undermining her credibility as a witness.
A New York judge freed Strauss-Kahn from house arrest on Friday after prosecutors revealed contradictions in the accuser's story.
Even if the U.S. charges are dismissed, Strauss-Kahn, 62, cannot put the case behind him quickly. French writer Tristane Banon filed a complaint in Paris alleging he tried to rape her during an interview in a Paris apartment in 2003, when she was 22.
Banon, an author and journalist, previously gave a graphic account of her allegation on a 2007 television show and her lawyer spoke of filing charges two days after the New York accusations exploded in May.
A French judge who would examine the merits of her case could send investigators to the United States to question Strauss-Kahn before deciding whether the new sexual assault charges are to proceed.
In New York, charges of sexual assault and attempted rape remained in place against Strauss-Kahn, although he has vehemently denied the allegations and prosecutors acknowledge it would be difficult to make a case against him given the series of lies and contradictions in the accuser's statements.
The New York Post cited an unnamed senior investigator as saying prosecutors would drop their charges at a court hearing in two weeks, or even earlier, due to doubts about the credibility of the accuser. [ID:nN1E76400U]
"We all know this case is not sustainable," the Post quoted its source as saying on Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office in New York would not confirm that prosecutors plan to drop the charges, saying they were still investigating the case.
She lied about being gang-raped in her home country in her application for U.S. asylum and changed details of her story about what she did after the purported assault in a luxury hotel suite, prosecutors said.
A lawyer representing the accuser said the woman was distraught at having her reputation sullied and was determined to see Strauss-Kahn answer for the allegations.
"The victim wants her day in court. It should be through a criminal trial," said Douglas Wigdor of the law firm Thompson Wigdor.
"Her account of what happened in the room will be forceful and corroborated by the physical evidence," he said.
She sued the New York Post and five of its journalists on Tuesday for reporting she was a prostitute, calling the articles false and defamatory.
"She's emotionally distraught, especially given the Post story. They called her a prostitute. It doesn't get much worse than that," Wigdor said.
The Post reported that the Sofitel housekeeper was a "hooker" who "routinely traded sex for money with male guests" and that after the purported May 14 assault, while under the protection of the District Attorney's office, she "was turning tricks on the taxpayer's dime," the lawsuit said.
The Post said, "We stand by our reporting."
PERP WALK ON TRIAL
The Banon case may fizzle after a preliminary inquiry unless the judge deems there is tangible evidence of an attempted rape. Given the years that have lapsed since the alleged incident, there could be little aside from witnesses' conflicting statements to hold up a court case.
Strauss-Kahn plans to bring a counterclaim against Banon, his lawyer said.
Regardless of the outcome, opinion polls since the weekend suggest that more than half of French voters think Strauss-Kahn's political career is already over.
Strauss-Kahn's abrupt reversals of fortune have angered many French, who viewed his parading before cameras, unshaven and handcuffed in New York as a gross violation of his rights. The "perp walk" -- "perp" being short for perpetrator -- is common in the United States, despite complaints from defense lawyers and civil libertarians.
"I've always thought that perp walks were outrageous. We vilify them for the benefit of the theater and circus. They did it in Roman times, too," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news conference on Tuesday.
Two days after the May 15 "perp walk" Bloomberg had said, "I think it is humiliating, but if you don't want to do the perp walk, don't do the crime."
(Additional reporting by Jennifer Golson, Leigh Jones and Joan Gralla in New York; Anthony Boadle in Washington; and Dominique Bareto in Fort-de-France; Writing by Catherine Bremer and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Louise Ireland, Sandra Maler, Jackie Frank)