BERN, Switzerland (AP) — The Swiss government declared renowned film director Roman Polanski a free man on Monday after rejecting a U.S. request to extradite him on a charge of having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl.
The Swiss mostly blamed U.S. authorities for failing to provide confidential testimony about Polanski’s sentencing procedure in 1977-1978.
The stunning decision could end the United States’ three-decade pursuit of Polanski, unless he travels to another country that would be willing to apprehend him and weigh sending him to Los Angeles. France, where he has spent much of his time, does not extradite its own citizens, and the public scrutiny over Switzerland’s deliberations may dissuade other nations from making such a spectacular arrest.
The Swiss government said it had sought confidential testimony given on Jan. 26 by Roger Gunson, the Los Angeles attorney in charge of the original prosecution against Polanski. Washington rejected the request.
“Mr. Polanski can now move freely. Since 12:30 today he’s a free man,” Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf declared.
Authorities in Los Angeles and Washington cannot appeal the Swiss decision. Sandy Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, declined to comment.
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.
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.
The Justice Ministry also said that national interests were taken into consideration in the decision, and the wishes of the victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago publicly identified herself and has joined in Polanski’s bid for dismissal.
“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.”
Polanski’s lawyer Herve Temime said the director was still at his Swiss chalet in the resort of Gstaad, where he has been held under house arrest since December.
Switzerland’s top justice official said he could now leave.
Temime told The Associated Press by telephone from his office in Paris that his client was ready to enjoy his freedom.
“This decision was certainly not expected,” Temime said.
He praised Swiss authorities for making the responsible decision.
Approving extradition had seemed the likeliest scenario after Polanski was arrested on Sept. 26 as he arrived in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award from a film festival. Polanski had also suffered a series of legal setbacks this year in California courts.
Switzerland handles about 200 extradition requests a year and only about 5 percent are rejected, Widmer-Schlumpf said.
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.”
Beyond the legal confusion, Polanski’s extradition is a 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 was murdered by crazed followers of cult leader Charles Manson in California.
French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand’s office expressed satisfaction with the decision, nine months after Mitterrand said Polanski had been “thrown to the lions.”
Widmer-Schlumpf said she informed authorities in the United States, France and Poland, in addition to Polanski’s lawyer.
She said she hoped the decision wouldn’t harm relations with Washington. The two countries have bickered in recent years over wealthy Americans hiding their money in the biggest Swiss bank, UBS AG, but have cooperated well on resettling prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“These were three completely different cases that have to be treated completely differently,” Widmer-Schlump said.