Dominique Strauss-Kahn returned home to France on Sunday, for the first time since attempted rape accusations by a New York hotel maid unleashed an international scandal that dashed the former International Monetary Fund chief's chances for the French presidency.
New York prosecutors later dropped their case against Strauss-Kahn because of questions about the maid's credibility.
But the affair cost him his job at the helm of the IMF and exposed his personal life to worldwide scrutiny that has stained his image and plunged his political future into uncertainty.
Smiling and waving silently, he stepped off an Air France flight Sunday at Paris' 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, but his supporters have been eagerly awaiting his return after three months of legal drama in the U.S. that they saw as unfairly hostile to him.
"I'm moved, I always believed in his innocence. I wanted very much for this to be over," Michelle Sabban, a fellow Socialist Party member, said on i-Tele television.
Strauss-Kahn flew in to Paris from New York's JFK Airport early Sunday 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' 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 minutes before takeoff by police.
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 job, spent almost a week in jail, then six weeks of house arrest and nearly two more months barred from leaving the country 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 over attempted rape, based on accusations by French novelist Tristane Banon. He calls the claim "imaginary."
Banon's mother, Anne Mansouret, told The Associated Press 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 didn't file a complaint after the 2003 incident because her mother, a regional Socialist official, urged her not to.
Mansouret, who has said she regrets that decision, called it "profoundly indecent" that Strauss-Kahn's homecoming Sunday was like that of a "star." The Associated Press does not name people who report being sexually assaulted unless they agree to be identified or come forward publicly, as Diallo and Banon have done.
Strauss-Kahn, known in France by his initials DSK, is also dubbed a "great seducer" by French commentators for his reputation for sexual adventures.
That reputation — and France's overall attitude toward keeping politicians' private lives private — came under scrutiny after Strauss-Kahn's arrest. Many called for more openness about questionable private behavior that might reflect on a politician's public life.
The Socialist Party is now in a fierce campaign for primaries next month to choose its candidate for April and May presidential elections. The front-runners, while relieved that the New York case was dropped, are not keen for Strauss-Kahn to play a role in the campaign.
Strauss-Kahn, an eloquent economist and former finance minister, still has many fans in France. One belted out an ode to Strauss-Kahn in a performance at the Paris airport Sunday morning, accompanied by a Verdi opera played on a portable stereo, before police officers asked him to stop.
"Dominique! Dominique!," shouted Gregoire Vandevelde, who said he was a former student of Strauss-Kahn's at a prestigious economic institute. "I support him completely," Vandevelde said. "He is extremely brilliant, full of humor and very competent, warm with his students."