Swiss authorities today refused to extradite Roman Polanski until a US court rules definitively that the director must face further sentencing in person in a 32-year-old sex case.
The Swiss justice ministry said it would make “no sense” to remove him from house arrest at his Alpine chalet while he seeks to resolve his US case in absentia for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
Polanski’s lawyers say the 76-year-old film-maker served his full sentence in 1978 when he underwent a diagnostic study at a California prison for 42 days. Los Angeles courts have disagreed and Polanski’s lawyers have promised to appeal.
“When the question is still open, why should he be extradited?,” the Swiss justice ministry’s deputy director, Rudolf Wyss, said. “As long as the question is still open, our decision depends on that.”
Mr Wyss spoke on the day Polanski’s latest film, 'The Ghost Writer', debuted at the annual Berlin Film Festival. The director will not be at the premiere, or a press conference featuring the thriller’s stars Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan, because he is under house arrest at his chalet in the Swiss resort of Gstaad.
Polanski lost a bid last month to be sentenced in Los Angeles without returning when a judge ruled that he must be present in court if he wanted to resolve the case. Referring to Polanski as a fugitive from justice, Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza said he was acting to protect “the dignity of the court”.
Polanski was initially accused of raping the girl after plying her with champagne and sedatives during a 1977 modelling shoot. He was indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molestation and sodomy, but he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse.
In exchange, the judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and sent him to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation. The evaluator released Polanski after 42 days, but the judge said he was going to send him back to serve out the remaining time.
The Oscar-winning director of Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist fled the US on February 1, 1978, the day he was to be formally sentenced.
He has since lived in France, which does not extradite its citizens, but was arrested on September 26 as he arrived in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award from a film festival.
The Swiss jailed Polanski for more than two months, then put him under house arrest after he posted $4.5m (€3.3m) in bail and agreed to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet around his ankle.
He can avoid being returned to Los Angeles if a court there rules that he doesn’t have to face further punishment, or if the amount of additional time he is sentenced to is less than six months.
LA prosecutors say Polanski is subject to a sentence of two years. The defence countered that he already served a sentence handed down by the original judge in the case plus more than four months spent in Swiss jail and house arrest.