WASHINGTON Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn apologized to the institution's staff in his first return visit since charges of sexual assault against him were dropped last week. He was greeted with warm applause.
Strauss-Kahn, who was with his wife French TV personality wife Anne Sinclair, drove himself to the headquarters of the International Monetary Fund and met briefly with his successor and fellow French national Christine Lagarde.
He later addressed a packed auditorium out of reach of the cameras of televisions crews and photographers who had camped outside the IMF all day waiting for the former director.
"He received a very warm welcome," said Paulo Nogueira Batista, who represents Brazil and a group of eight Latin American countries, after the meeting.
"It reflects the fact that he is very much appreciated in the institution," Nogueira Batista said, adding: "People clapped for very long periods."
Another witness, who asked not to be identified, said staff broke into spontaneous applause before Strauss-Kahn began speaking. He did not talk about his court case but did note that the U.S. justice system had been fair, the witness said.
The IMF said the visit by Strauss-Kahn was personal and arranged at his request.
His visit to the IMF had been greeted ahead of time with dismay by some IMF staff, while others said they felt sorry for Strauss-Kahn and wanted to pay tribute to his time at the helm of the global lender.
Strauss-Kahn led the IMF, the world's economic firefighter, as managing director for four years before he resigned on May 18 after his shock arrest in New York on criminal charges of sexual assault and attempted rape involving a hotel maid.
In a dramatic development last week, prosecutors asked that the charges against him be dismissed after they lost faith in the credibility of his accuser, an immigrant from Guinea.
Strauss-Kahn had been expected to be voted France's next president in the 2012 election before his arrest.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; editing by Anthony Boadle)