Swiss Reject U.S. Extradition Of Polanski

polanski2UPDATE: Roman Polanski is on his way back to France. The AP is reporting from Bern, Switzerland, that the Swiss government declared Oscar-winning film director Roman Polanski a free man today after rejecting a U.S. request to extradite him on a charge of having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl. “Mr. Polanski can now move freely. Since 12:30 today he’s a free man,” Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf declared, after informing authorities in the United States, France and Poland, in addition to Polanski’s lawyer. Polanski was arrested on September 26th as he arrived in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award from a film festival. Since December, the director had been held under house arrest at his chalet in the resort of Gstaad.

The Swiss mostly blamed U.S. authorities for failing to provide confidential testimony about Polanski’s sentencing procedure in 1977-1978. The Swiss government said it had sought confidential testimony given on January 26th by Roger Gunson, the Los Angeles attorney in charge of the original prosecution against Polanski. U.S. authorities rejected the request. Widmer-Schlumpf said this decision was not meant to excuse Polanski’s crime, saying the issue was “not about deciding whether he is guilty or not guilty.” The government said extradition had to be rejected “considering the persisting doubts concerning the presentation of the facts of the case.”

According to the stunning Swiss decision, “The 76-year-old French-Polish film director Roman Polanski will not be extradited to the USA,” the ministry said in a statement. “The freedom-restricting measures against him have been revoked.” Thus seems to end the 3-decade pursuit of Polanski by Los Angeles authorities — unless he travels to another country willing to apprehend him and weigh sending him to LA. But France, where he has spent much of his time, does not extradite its own citizens. And the AP noted that public scrutiny over Switzerland’s deliberations may dissuade other nations from making such a spectacular arrest.

Authorities in Los Angeles and Washington cannot appeal the Swiss decision. There was no immediate comment from the LA County District Attorney’s Office. French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand’s office expressed satisfaction with the decision, 9 months after Mitterrand said Polanski had been “thrown to the lions.”

The Swiss Justice Ministry said it took into consideration the wishes of the victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago publicly identified herself and has joined in Polanski’s bid for dismissal. The Oscar-winning director of Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, and The Pianist was accused of plying his victim with champagne and part of a Quaalude during a 1977 modeling shoot and then raping her. He was initially indicted on 6 felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy, but pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse.

In exchange, the judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and sentence him to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation. However, he was released after 42 days by an evaluator who deemed him mentally sound and unlikely to offend again. The judge responded by saying he was going to send Polanski back to jail for the remainder of the 90 days and that afterward he would ask Polanski to agree to a “voluntary deportation.” Polanski then fled the country on the eve of his February 1, 1978, sentencing.

Based on references to Gunson’s testimony in U.S. courts, the Swiss said it “should prove” that Polanski served his sentence after undergoing 42 days of diagnostic study. “If this were the case, Roman Polanski would actually have already served his sentence and therefore both the proceedings on which the U.S. extradition request is founded and the request itself would have no foundation,” the ministry said.