Swiss Reject US Extradition Request; Polanski Goes Free

July 12, 2010

Switzerland said on Monday it would not send Roman Polanski back to the United States to face sentencing for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977, freeing the Oscar-winning director from 10 months arrest.

Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said she had decided against extradition because of potential technical faults in the US extradition requests but also because Polanski had for years come to Switzerland in good faith. Specifically, Widmer-Schlumpf said the American authorities had rejected a request by her ministry for records of a hearing by the prosecutor in the case, Roger Gunson, in January 2010, which should have established whether the judge who tried the case in 1977 had assured Polanski that time he spent in a psychiatric unit would constitute the whole of the period of imprisonment he would serve. If this were the case, Polanski would have already served his sentence, and the US extradition request would have no foundation.

Polanski, 76, who won a best director Oscar for his moving portrait of life in the Warsaw Jewish ghetto of World War Two in “The Pianist,” was still at his mountain chalet in the ski town of Gstaad, where he had been held under house arrest. The electronic foot bracelet that the Swiss have used to control his movements has been switched off.

The Swiss minister said while the United States could appeal this decision internationally, she did not expect that to happen.

The announcement follows months of uncertainty over whether Polanski would have to return to the United States after having been arrested in September 2009 upon arrival in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award at a film festival.

After a short jail stint, Polanski, who holds dual French and Polish citizenship, was put under house arrest in December 2009 at Gstaad while Swiss officials awaited the outcome of US legal proceedings.

Polanski pleaded guilty to having sex with the girl but fled the United States on the eve of his 1978 sentencing because he believed a judge might overrule his plea and put him in jail for 50 years.

Polanski has lived in Europe ever since, facing the prospect of arrest the moment he set foot back on U.S. soil while continuing his film career outside Hollywood.

Born to Polish-Jewish parents in 1933, his life was marked by a narrow escape from the Krakow ghetto and by the murder of his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, by followers of cult leader Charles Manson in 1969. Polanski is also known for classics such as “Chinatown,” which earned 11 Oscar nominations, and “Rosemary’s Baby.”

Douglas McNabb and other members of the firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, Interpol Litigation, International Extradition and OFAC Litigation.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at or at one of the offices listed above.

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