By Daniel Flynn and Thierry Leveque
PARIS (Reuters) - Dominique Strauss-Kahn could make a dramatic return to French public life if sexual assault charges against the former IMF chief are dropped this week, the frontrunner in France's presidential election said on Monday.
But with Strauss-Kahn's image tarnished by widespread reporting in France about his sexual behavior, most political analysts doubt he would risk competing with President Nicolas Sarkozy on April's ballot.
New York prosecutors on Monday filed a motion to drop the charges against Strauss-Kahn after losing faith in the credibility of his accuser, a 32-year-old hotel maid from Guinea. The case could be formally dropped at a court hearing on Tuesday.
Francois Hollande, the leading Socialist candidate for the 2012 elections after Strauss-Kahn's arrest in May, seemed to hint in a radio interview that the former French finance minister might once again play a role in government.
"Whatever has been said, a man with the abilities of Dominique Strauss-Kahn can be useful to his country in the months and years to come," Hollande, the frontrunner among six candidates for the Socialist primary, told France Inter radio.
Asked whether Strauss-Kahn could take part in the October vote to choose the party's presidential candidate, Hollande was non-committal: "That depends on him."
Strauss-Kahn has always staunchly maintained his innocence. But he has missed the July 13 deadline to register for the Socialists' primary and the party would need to make an exception for him. While Hollande appeared to open the door to Strauss-Kahn to participate in a possible Socialist government, he stressed there was no pact between him and Strauss-Kahn.
Nafissatou Diallo, who accused Strauss-Kahn of forcing her to perform oral sex on May 14 in New York's Sofitel Hotel met with prosecutors in Manhattan on Monday. Shortly afterwards, the District Attorney's office filed a motion to dismiss the case, ahead of Strauss-Kahn's appearance in court on Tuesday.
Strauss-Kahn still faces a civil lawsuit filed by Diallo and a complaint from French writer Tristane Banon who said he tried to rape her during a 2003 interview.
However, a judicial source said the French complaint was likely to be shelved as prosecutors were struggling to find evidence to support a charge of attempted rape. A statute of limitations on a lesser crime of sexual aggression has already expired.
Strauss-Kahn's arrest in May was met in France by shock, disbelief and swirling conspiracy theories. But his popularity has steadily fallen.
A survey by pollster Ipsos published on Monday in Le Point magazine showed his rating fell a further 4 points in August, with 61 per cent of those questioned having a "disfavorable" opinion versus 57 percent in July.
A survey released last month showed that two-thirds of French people do not want Strauss-Kahn to be a candidate.
Strauss-Kahn's political supporters, many of whom stood by him in the days after his arrest, have since dropped the idea of his candidacy and supported other party hopefuls.
"He will without doubt have some things to say about the future of our country but for the time being let's respect him and respect the decisions of the justice system," Socialist party leader Martine Aubry said on Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Alexandria Sage; Editing by Andrew Roche and Jackie Frank)