Polanski Declared "A Free Man"
Swiss officials refuse to extradite the famed movie director to the U.S.
Roman Polanski (Getty Images)
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The Swiss government said the United States failed to address defense arguments that the 76-year-old filmmaker had actually served his sentence before fleeing Los Angeles three decades ago.
Nine months after arresting Polanski, the Justice Ministry said U.S. officials should have backed up their request by providing confidential testimony about Polanski's sentencing procedure in L.A.
"Mr. Polanski can now move freely," Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf declared. "He's a free man."
District Attorney Steve Cooley said today that although Switzerland refused to return Roman Polanski to California for sentencing, extradition will be sought if the fugitive is arrested elsewhere.
"I am deeply disappointed that the Swiss authorities denied the request to extradite Roman Polanski," Cooley said in a prepared statement. "Our office complied fully with all of the factual and legal requirements of the extradition treaty and requests by the U.S. and Swiss Departments of Justice and State.
"We will discuss with the Department of Justice the extradition of Roman Polanski if he's arrested in a cooperative jurisdiction," the District Attorney added.
Five Los Angeles County District Attorneys John Van de Kamp, Robert Philobosian, Ira Reiner, Gil Garcetti and Cooley approved extradition of Polanski after the filmmaker fled sentencing in February 1978.
The stunning decision could end the United States' long pursuit of Polanski.
France, where he has spent much of his time, does not extradite its own citizens and Polanski has had little trouble traveling throughout Europe - even if he's stayed away from Britain.
Polanski will remain a fugitive in the United States unless American authorities move to drop the extradition request. They cannot appeal the Swiss decision.
The Swiss decision was praised by senior government officials in France and Poland, where he holds dual citizenship. But there was criticism from groups representing victims of sexual abuse.
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 raping her.
He was initially indicted on six 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 Feb. 1, 1978, sentencing.
The Swiss government's main argument concerned confidential testimony given on Jan. 26 by Roger Gunson, the Los Angeles attorney in charge of the original prosecution against Polanski.
The Swiss asked for the transcript, but Washington rejected the request.
Based on references to Gunson's testimony in U.S. courts, the Swiss said it "should prove" that Polanski served his sentence after undergoing the 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.
The Justice Ministry said its decision reflected the spirit of the law, as U.S. authorities hadn't pursued Polanski in Switzerland previously even though he's often visited the country and bought a house here in 2006. It also cited the wishes of the victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago publicly identified herself and has joined in Polanski's bid for dismissal.
Polanski's electric monitoring bracelet was removed, the government said, but it was unclear if he had already left the confines of his house and garden for the first time since being placed under house arrest in December on $4.5 million bail.