BERN, Switzerland // The Swiss government declared renowned film director Roman Polanski a free man today after rejecting a US request to extradite him on a charge of having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl. The Swiss mostly blamed US 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 January 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," the 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 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 February 1, 1978, sentencing.
Based on references to Gunson's testimony in US 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. Mr Temime said his client was ready to enjoy his freedom. "This decision was certainly not expected," Temime said. He praised Swiss authorities for making the decision.