Polanski freed as Swiss reject US bid for extradition
POLISH-BORN film director Roman Polanski was a free man yesterday after Swiss authorities dismissed as incomplete an extradition request from the US regarding charges of unlawful sex with a minor in 1977.
Polanski was arrested in September 2009 in Zürich in response to an American arrest warrant; three months later he was released, wearing an electronic foot-tag, to serve house arrest at his chalet in Gstaad.
“Since 11.30 today he is a free man,” said justice minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf yesterday in Berne. “He can move freely in Switzerland, France, Poland, everywhere where he doesn’t have to reckon with legal proceedings.”
Switzerland’s justice minister said her decision was the result of incomplete documentation from the US authorities regarding the nature of Polanski’s 1978 sentence.
Polanski and his lawyer say they had agreed back then with the presiding judge’s sentence in two parts: 42 days in a secure psychiatric facility in California, which he completed, to be followed by a second, probationary sentence.
“They say he was suddenly told the second sentence was not going to be on probation after all but a prison sentence, upon which he fled,” said Ms Widmer-Schlumpf.
“This is the contentious issue, the prosecutor in question was questioned on this point last January by the US authorities but we don’t have this protocol.”
The US authorities said they were unable to provide Berne with a sealed court document, even after the justice minister said she “intervened personally to make clear the consequences”.
“We can’t say for sure whether or not Mr Polanski has served the necessary sentence for the crime,” said Ms Widmer-Schlumpf. “Mr Polanski is 77, the alleged events lie 33 years in the past and today we’re talking about a remaining sentence of two years maximum. Mr Polanski has served 10 months on remand and house arrest, all of that has to be considered.”
The justice minister rejected claims that Switzerland had dragged out proceedings, saying that the director’s lawyers had asked for Swiss authorities not to deal with the US extradition request until they had exhausted Polanski’s remaining legal options.
“This ruling is enormously satisfying and a great relief after the pain suffered by Roman Polanski and his family,” said Hervé Temime, lawyer for the director.
Swiss authorities arrested Polanski in September 2009 at the Zurich Film Festival, where he was to receive a lifetime achievement award, after asking US authorities whether the warrant for his arrest was still active.
A spokesman for the justice ministry declined to specify yesterday why Polanski was not arrested on one of his regular visits over the years to Switzerland, where he has maintained a residence since 2006. The spokesman said the US “failed to issue a formal extradition request” and Swiss authorities had “failed to check” Polanski’s passport.
Switzerland’s justice ministry said that, on average, just five of the 200 extradition requests it receives annually come from the US. Some 95 per cent of requests are granted.
Roman Polanski Final Twist In Real-life Drama
YESTERDAY’S SWISS ruling is the latest, and perhaps final twist in the 33-year-long real-life drama around Roman Polanski.
The Rosemary’s Babydirector has not set foot on US soil since 1978 after he pleaded guilty to having sex a year earlier with a 13-year-old girl at the house of actor Jack Nicholson.
Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse but disputed five other charges including rape by use of drugs, child molestation and sodomy.
According to the girl, Samantha Geimer, Polanski gave her part of a sedative pill and champagne, and began taking photographs of her before making sexual advances.
Polanski’s lawyers say they reached a plea bargain with the trial judge, the late Laurence J Rittenband (d 1993), sentencing the director to a term in a psychiatric clinic with the remaining sentence suspended. When summoned back to the court, Polanski, afraid the terms of the deal were going to be changed, fled to France.
The Swiss government sought information on whether this plea bargain had been reached, and requested a transcript of the sworn testimony given last January by Roger Gunson, the Los Angeles prosecuting attorney who was in charge of the Polanski case at the time. With the information not forthcoming, the Swiss rejected the extradition request arising from his arrest in Zürich last September. Polanski’s arrest prompted an outcry from the film-making community, including directors such as Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese.
In 2008 Ms Geimer asked US authorities to drop the case.
– DEREK SCALLY