Roman Polanski freed
Swiss authorities will not extradite him to U.S.
It’s back to Paris for Roman Polanski and back to square one in legal attempts to extradite the controversial auteur.
How viable the director’s film career remains is even more unclear.
Swiss authorities said early Monday that they will not extradite Polanski, 76, and that the director, wanted in the U.S. on a 1977 charge of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl, is a free man.
But by the afternoon, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley responded that though Switzerland refused to return the director to California for sentencing, extradition will be sought if he is arrested elsewhere.
“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,” Cooley said. “We will discuss with the Department of Justice the extradition of Roman Polanski if he’s arrested in a cooperative jurisdiction.”
In her decision, Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf explained that her office decided not to extradite Polanski and that he can leave the country. Swiss police arrested Polanski in September on a request from U.S. prosecutors. After two months in jail, police transferred him to his chalet in Gstaad, where he remained under house arrest until Monday.
While there, he managed to put finishing touches on his movie “The Ghost Writer,” which was released in February. “Ghost Writer,” his first pic since 2005’s “Oliver Twist,” was released by Summit and grossed nearly $16 million domestically and $37 million overseas.
If Polanski crosses the border to his native France, he will be outside the reach of U.S. authorities be¬cause France does not extradite its citizens. The Swiss said a key factor in their decision was that U.S. authorities refused to provide confidential testimony about Polanski’s sentencing procedure in 1977-78.
“This was not about whether Mr. Polanski was guilty or not guilty,” Widmer-Schlumpf said, but whether there was sufficient evidence to justify extradition.
The Swiss ruled there wasn’t, in part because they did not have access to sealed testimony from the case’s original prosecutor, Roger Gunson. Polanski’s lawyers have argued that testimony showed that the late Judge Laurence Rittenband had agreed to sentence Polanski to a 90-day psychiatric evaluation and nothing more. Later, he allegedly changed his mind. In response, Polanski fled the U.S. for France.
The Swiss Justice Ministry asked for the sealed testimony but was turned down. Widmer-Schlumpf said without it, her office did not have “sufficient evidence to determine the facts of the case” and had to let Polanski go.
Polanski theoretically could sue the Swiss for damages related to his arrest and imprisonment. Widmer-Schlumpf, though, said that is unlikely.
Polanski is accused of drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl on March 10, 1977, during a modeling shoot at Jack Nicholson’s house. Although Polanski initially was indicted on six felony counts, including child molestation and rape by use of drugs, he pleaded guilty to only one count of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.
The Polanski case has split the international film industry. Prominent directors including Jean-Luc Godard, Bertrand Tavernier and Olivier Assayas signed a petition for his release as recently as during the Festival de Cannes in May, but just as many have called for his extradition.
Failure to extradite Polanski for sentencing is “a disservice to justice and other victims as a whole,” Cooley said. “To justify their finding to deny extradition on an issue that is unique to California law regarding conditional examination of a potentially unavailable witness is a rejection of the competency of the California courts. The Swiss could not have found a smaller hook on which to hang their hat.”
Before his arrest, Polanski was attached to adapt and direct Yasmina Reza’s Tony-winning play “God of Carnage.” The dark comedy, set in a Paris apartment, revolves around two sets of parents who meet to discuss a fight between their children. Polanski and Reza have been friends for 20 years.
Shortly after Polanski’s arrest, Reza said the project was deep in preproduction, with initial discussions on casting under way and shooting planned for early this year. James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis starred in the original Broadway production. Other A-listers who have performed in the stage version of “Carnage” include Ralph Fiennes and Isabelle Huppert.
Polanski’s wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner, said several months ago that the director continued to develop the project under house arrest.
Two years ago, Polanski was set to direct “Pompeii,” a big-budget adaptation of Robert Harris’ Roman Empire-era best-seller. The two co-wrote a screenplay before financing fell apart, and Harris and Polanski decided on a lower-budget adaptation of Harris’ police thriller “Ghost Writer.”
Harris has moved on with “Pompeii,” re-imagining the book as a miniseries to be produced by Sony Pictures TV, Ridley and Tony Scott’s Scott Free and Germany-based TV producer Tandem.
Polanski’s longtime agent, ICM head Jeff Berg, could not be reached for comment.
Scott Roxborough reported from Cologne, Germany; Elizabeth Guider reported from Los Angeles.
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