Director avoids having to face sex charges; Swiss judge says the U.S. “cannot contest the decision”
After nearly a yearlong legal tug-of-war, Roman Polanski finds himself right back where he started before his September arrest: A free man, so long as he steers clear of U.S. authorities.
Switzerland rejected outright a request to extradite Polanski to the United States to face prosecution in a 1977 child sex case, saying that Los Angeles prosecutors' argument for bringing him back was fundamentally flawed.
"Roman Polanski will not be extradited to the U.S.A.," the Swiss Justice Ministry said in a statement Monday. "The freedom-restricting measures against him have been revoked. He's a free man."
In essence, the court said it could not rule out that Polanski had already served his sentence, and concluded that the extradition request is "undermined by a serious fault."
"Considering the persisting doubts concerning the presentation of the facts of the case, the request has to be rejected, " said Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.
The news was said to hit the Los Angeles District Attorney's office "like a bomb."
L.A. district attorney Steve Cooley told the LA Times early Monday that he was was "genuinely surprised and disappointed" by the Swiss decision. The D.A., whose run for California's Attorney General was attacked online by Polanski on May 2, said he would comment further later in the day.
No matter how the DA feels about its case, it's left with little recourse.
"The United States cannot contest the decision," Widmer-Schlumpf added. "This is not about qualifying a crime. That is not our duty. This is not about deciding on guilt or innocence."
In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State for public affairs Philip Crowley called the Swiss government decision “regrettable” and said the U.S. government was disappointed. He also questioned whether Polanski got off on “technicalities.”
“Please. A 13-year-girl was drugged and raped by an adult. This is not a matter of technicality,” said Crowley.
“I think the facts in the case are not in dispute," he continued. "The girl was 13, there was an adult, there was a rape or unlawful sex, whatever you want to call it. We think that's a crime, and that is why we have been, you know, pursuing this case over many, many years."
The 76-year-old Polanski was arrested by Swiss authorities last September on his way to a film festival in Zürich, jailed and ordered to surrender his passport. After posting $4.5 million bail, he was fitted with an electronic bracelet and confined to his chalet in the Swiss Alps ski resort of Gstaad. (Polanski finished "The Ghost Writer" while under house arrest there.)
"I am glad because he will be able to return to France and will be free to see his son, his daughter and his wife Emmanuelle Seigner, whom I pay tribute to because she has shown great courage during this whole period," Polanski's lawyer told Agence France-Press.
In April, a California court rejected rejected Polanski’s March 18 petition for an inquiry into alleged prosecutorial misconduct during his 1977 trial for raping and sodomizing a13-year-old girl.
The French-born director, who fled the United States on a Europe-bound plane out of LAX on Feb. 1, 1978, also sought to be sentenced in absentia.
The California court also rejected the effort of Polanski’s victim, Samantha Geimer, to have the charges against Polanski dismissed.
In March, California district attorney Steven Cooley’s office issued a scathing response to Polanski’s petition and demanded “defendant Polanski present himself to the jurisdiction of the Superior Court.”
France President Nicolas Sarkozy has supported the Paris-born Polanski during the director's ordeal, and Polanski is expected to return his home there.
"The time has now come for calm," France's Ministry of Culture Frederic Mitterrand said Monday.
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