Published: July 12, 2010
GENEVA — Roman Polanski’s repeated claims that there was misconduct at his trial for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 ran into a brick wall in American courts. But they were enough apparently to convince Swiss authorities that he should walk free.
(July 12, 2010) Switzerland announced Monday that it would not extradite Mr. Polanski, a famous film director, to the United States in part because of fresh doubts over the conduct of the judge in his original trial.
“He’s a free man,” the Swiss justice minister, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, said at a news conference on Monday.
The ruling means that, after nearly a year of courtroom wrangling in the United States and Switzerland, the case is roughly where it has been for decades: Mr. Polanski is free to return to his home in France but remains wanted in the United States. He was arrested at the Zurich airport last September on an international warrant issued by the United States on charges including rape and sodomy dating from 1977. In December, the Swiss authorities allowed him to move to his chalet in the ski resort of Gstaad under house arrest on bail of $4.5 million pending a decision on his extradition.
Mr. Polanski fled the United States in 1978 after he had pleaded guilty to one count of having unlawful sex with a minor and spent 42 days in psychiatric evaluation in Chino State Prison.
The arrest and the request for extradition opened up a cultural divide both in the United States and Europe as filmmakers, intellectuals, politicians and victims’ rights groups lined up on either side of the debate. At issue: had Mr. Polanski suffered enough for his crimes, as his supporters argued, or were his celebrity and talent obscuring the serious nature of the charges against him?
The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said he was “delighted” and deeply relieved by the ruling. Samantha Geimer, who at 13 was Mr. Polanski’s victim in the original sex case, has long disclosed her identity and called to end the prosecution.
Joelle Casteix, the western regional director for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said she was “grossly disappointed.” Ms. Casteix, whose group assists the victims of sexual abuse, added, “This sends a message that if the abuser is rich and powerful, that person can flee the country and get away scot free.”
The decision to free Mr. Polanski was a sharp defeat for prosecutors in Los Angeles, who had warded off repeated challenges by insisting that Mr. Polanski’s claims to have been wronged by authorities in the past could not be considered until his fugitive status had ended. Steve Cooley, the Los Angeles County district attorney, is the Republican candidate for state attorney general.
In a statement, Mr. Cooley said his office would continue to pursue extradition if Mr. Polanski were arrested somewhere other than Switzerland.
“Our office complied fully with all of the factual and legal requirements” of the treaty with Switzerland, Mr. Cooley said. All of the original charges against Mr. Polanski are still pending, Mr. Cooley noted, because he was never sentenced under a plea agreement that reduced those to just unlawful sex with a minor.
Lanny A. Breuer, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s criminal division, said that the Obama administration was still looking at its options about what to do next but was “deeply disappointed” by the Swiss decision.
“We thought our extradition request was completely supported by the treaty, completely supported by the facts and the law, and the underlying conduct was of course very serious,” Mr. Breuer said.
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