By Kilmeny Duchardt and Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn prepared to leave the United States on Saturday for the first time since his May 14 arrest on charges, since dropped, that he sexually assaulted a hotel maid in New York.
Strauss-Kahn was seen leaving his luxury rental apartment in lower Manhattan on Saturday afternoon with his wife Anne Sinclair and arriving by car at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Last month, prosecutors took the rare step of requesting dismissal of the charges after they discovered contradictions in the account of the maid, Nafissatou Diallo, a 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea.
A New York judge dropped all criminal charges against Strauss-Kahn on August 23, leaving him free to return to France -- where he was once seen as a leading candidate for the French presidency -- and rebuild his shattered career.
The decision ended a case that brought three months of sordid headlines on both sides of the Atlantic.
Strauss-Kahn strongly denied sexual assault from the start. His lawyer Benjamin Brafman told Reuters in an interview after charges were dropped: "This encounter was quick, it was consensual and she was a willing participant."
Strauss-Kahn, who led the International Monetary Fund through the 2007-09 global financial meltdown, resigned from the IMF on May 18.
The charismatic diplomat was pulled from an Air France first-class seat by police 10 minutes before it was to take off for Paris and thrown into New York City's Rikers Island jail on charges of attempted rape.
But the case began to fall apart after prosecutors said Diallo had lied repeatedly.
Strauss-Kahn still faces a civil case brought by Diallo and an accusation of attempted rape by a woman 30 years his junior in France.
He has promised to offer the French an explanation when he returns.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)