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Published: Tuesday, 7/13/2010

Polanski free; Swiss reject extradition for director's sex conviction

ASSOCIATED PRESS

GSTAAD, Switzerland - In a stunning ruling, Roman Polanski was declared a free man Monday - no longer confined to house arrest in his Alpine villa after Swiss authorities rejected a U.S. request for his extradition because of a 32-year-old sex conviction.

The decision left the Oscar-winning director free to return to France and the life of a celebrity, albeit one unable to visit the United States.

Hours after the ruling was announced, Polanski's assistant said he had left his multimillion-dollar chalet with his family. Half-empty glasses on a back porch testified to a hasty exit.

Switzerland, which arrested the 76-year-old Polanski in September as he arrived to receive a lifetime achievement award at a Zurich film festival, blamed U.S. authorities for its decision, citing a possible "fault in the U.S. extradition request."

The United States failed to provide confidential testimony to dispute defense arguments the filmmaker had served his sentence before fleeing Los Angeles three decades ago, Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said.

Polanski Polanski
MICHEL EULER / AP Enlarge

The Swiss decision for now ends the United States' long pursuit of Polanski, who has been a fugitive since fleeing sentencing for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl. But Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said his office will try again to have Polanski extradited if he is arrested in another country with a favorable extradition treaty.

The extradition request was 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, Sharon Tate, was murdered in 1969 by followers of cult leader Charles Manson in California.

France, where the filmmaker has spent much of his time, does not extradite its own citizens, and Polanski has had little trouble traveling throughout Europe - although he has stayed away from Britain.

The United States cannot appeal the decision, but Polanski is still a fugitive in the United States.

"That warrant remains outstanding," Los Angeles Superior Court spokesman Allan Parachini said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the Obama Administration was disappointed by the Swiss action. "The United States believes that the rape of a 13-year-old child by an adult is a crime, and we continue to pursue justice in this case," Mr. Crowley said.

The acclaimed 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.



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