Posted: Jul 12, 2010 4:57 PM by Melissa Canone
GSTAAD, Switzerland (AP) - In a stunning ruling, Roman Polanski
was declared a free man on Monday - no longer confined to house
arrest in his Alpine villa after Swiss authorities rejected a U.S.
request for his extradition because of a 32-year-old sex
The decision left the Oscar-winning director free to return to
France and the life of a celebrity, albeit one unable to visit the
Hours after the ruling was announced, Polanski's assistant said
he had left his multi-million dollar chalet with his family.
Half-empty glasses seen on a back porch testified to a hasty exit.
"Mr. Polanski can now move freely," Swiss Justice Minister
Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf declared. "He's a free man."
Switzerland, which arrested the 76-year-old Polanski last
September as he arrived receive a lifetime achievement award at a
Zurich film festival, blamed U.S. authorities for its decision,
citing a possible "fault in the U.S. extradition request."
The United States failed to provide confidential testimony to
refute defense arguments the filmmaker had actually served his
sentence before fleeing Los Angeles three decades ago,
The Swiss decision could end the United States' long pursuit of
Polanski, who has been a fugitive since fleeing sentencing for
having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl.
Beyond the legal issue, the extradition request was complicated
and diplomatically sensitive because of Polanski's status as a
cultural icon in France and Poland, where he holds dual
citizenship, and his history as a Holocaust survivor whose first
wife Sharon Tate was murdered in 1969 by followers of cult leader
Charles Manson in California.
France, where the filmmaker has spent much of his time, does not
extradite its own citizens and Polanski has had little trouble
traveling throughout Europe - although he has stayed away from
The U.S. cannot appeal the decision, but Polanski is still a
fugitive in the United States.
"That warrant remains outstanding," Los Angeles Superior Court
spokesman Allan Parachini said, adding that Polanski could be
arrested and sent to the U.S. if he traveled to another country
that has an extradition treaty with the United States.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the
Obama administration was disappointed by the Swiss action. "The
United States believes that the rape of a 13-year-old child by an
adult is a crime, and we continue to pursue justice in this case,"
A top Justice Department official said the U.S. extradition
request was completely supported by treaty, facts and the law. The
department is "deeply disappointed" by the Swiss rejection and
will review its options, said Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney
general in charge of the department's criminal division.
The decision drew cheers and jeers on both sides of the
"The great Franco-Polish director can now freely rediscover his
loved ones and devote himself fully to the pursuit of his artistic
activities," said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
His Polish counterpart Radek Sikorski expressed satisfaction
with the Swiss decision, saying that "a solution was found that
respects the complex legal considerations and personal
circumstances of the case of Mr. Polanski."
At Polanski's multi-million dollar Alpine chalet the shutters
were open but there was no sign of movement inside hours after the
Swiss decision was announced.
A woman who answered the intercom and identified herself only as
"Mr. Polanski's assistant" said the director had left with his
wife and two young children, Morgane and Elvis. She declined to say
where Polanski had gone or whether he would return.
Glasses stood half-empty glasses on the porch, where neighbors
say Polanski was having a meal around noon.
Asked whether Polanski had left the home after being freed
Monday from the electronic tags that monitored his movements during
his house arrest on $4.5 million bail, a police spokeswoman, Ursula
Stauffer, said: "Mr. Polanski is a free man. It's not the job of
the police to keep track of his movements."
Widmer-Schlumpf, the Swiss justice minister, said the decision
was not meant to excuse Polanski's crime, adding 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
In justifying the decision, Switzerland also invoked what it
called the "public order" - a lofty notion meaning that
governments should ensure their citizens are safe from arbitrary
abuse of the law.
The Justice Ministry cited the fact that 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
stressed that the victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago publicly
identified herself, has joined in Polanski's bid for dismissal.
The acclaimed 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,
The office of Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley
did not issue any statement about the Swiss decision and he did not
return a message seeking comment.
Reaction was varied among Los Angeles' legal community, ranging
from those who saw the Swiss decision as a slap in the face to
others who thought the efforts by Cooley's office to prosecute
Polanski were too late.
"Polanski got away with a lot, but it's not all black and
white," said Loyola Law School professor Stan Goldman. "I don't
see the D.A. rushing to investigate the very palpable evidence of
misconduct in the original case. And the victim said they were
hurting her every time they brought this up. So there are many
shades of gray."
University of Southern California Law School professor Jean
Rosenbluth said that while extradition requests are overwhelmingly
approved, the Polanski case presented several difficult issues.
The Swiss had wide latitude to make a decision, and there were a
variety of competing interests, said Rosenbluth, a former federal
prosecutor who has handled extradition cases.
"In my opinion they wanted to release him and looked for some
grounds to support the release," defense attorney Thomas Mesereau
Jr. said. "It's a clear affront to the United States and the Los
Angeles County District Attorney."