Switzer­land re­fuses to ex­tra­dite Polan­ski

of­fi­cials lean on le­gal rea­son­ing to set di­rec­tor free

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Jack Leonard and An­drew Blankstein

LOS AN­GE­LES — In the end, the move by Swiss au­thor­i­ties to free Ro­man Polan­ski did not come down to whether he drugged and raped a 13-yearold girl, nor did it hinge on his more than three decades as an in­ter­na­tional fugi­tive.

In­stead, the Swiss govern­ment’s re­fusal Mon­day to ex­tra­dite the di­rec­tor cen­tered on a 1977 back-room meet­ing that a Los An­ge­les judge held with the pros­e­cu­tor and de­fense at­tor­ney on the case.

Polan­ski’s lawyers al­lege that the judge made it clear at the meet­ing that he in­tended to send the di­rec­tor to prison for a 90-day di­ag­nos­tic test as his full sen­tence be­hind bars. The di­rec­tor’s attorneys said that Polan­ski com­pleted his pun­ish­ment when prison au­thor­i­ties re­leased him af­ter 42 days and that the filmmaker fled the coun­try when the judge in­di­cated he would send him back to prison.

The Swiss jus­tice min­istry cited the meet­ing in its de­ci­sion, say­ing a U.S. court’s rul­ing that kept some records about the meet­ing se­cret cre­ated “per­sist­ing doubts con­cern­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion of the facts of the case.”

“In these cir­cum­stances, it is not pos­si­ble to ex­clude with the nec­es­sary cer­tainty that Ro­man Polan­ski has al­ready served the sen­tence he was con­demned to at the time,” the state­ment said.

Los An­ge­les County District At­tor­ney Steve Coo­ley said he was “gen­uinely sur­prised and dis­ap­pointed” by the le­gal rea­son­ing be­hind the de­ci­sion.

“The Swiss could not have found a smaller hook on which to hang their hat,” he said in a state­ment. He de­scribed the fail­ure to re­turn Polan­ski as a “dis­ser­vice to jus­tice.”

Le­gal ex­perts said the lat­est devel­op­ment in the long-run­ning le­gal saga was a blow to The Swiss faulted U.S. au­thor­i­ties for not seek­ing Ro­man Polan­ski’s ex­tra­di­tion be­fore last year. He bought this home in Gs­taad in 2006 and had been un­der house ar­rest there since De­cem­ber. fled U.S. af­ter plead­ing guilty in 1977. Coo­ley’s of­fice.

Lo­cal pros­e­cu­tors had won a se­ries of le­gal vic­to­ries in Cal­i­for­nia courts as Polan­ski at­tempted to have his sex­crimes case dis­missed or to be sen­tenced in ab­sen­tia. He al­leged that he was the vic­tim of ju­di­cial and pros­e­cu­to­rial mis­con­duct, but lo­cal judges ruled that he needed to re­turn to Los An­ge­les be­fore his claims could be con­sid­ered.

“Up to now, Polan­ski has been the bad guy,” said Lau­rie Leven­son, a pro­fes­sor at Loy­ola Law School and a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor. “At the end of this, the DAs look like the losers, even though Polan­ski is some­one who fled from sen­tenc­ing.”

A spokes­woman at the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice, which han­dled the ex­tra­di­tion re- quest, said agency of­fi­cials were dis­ap­pointed by the Swiss an­nounce­ment and were re­view­ing their op­tions.

Jean Rosen­bluth, a pro­fes­sor of law at the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, said that the vast ma­jor­ity of ex­tra­di­tion re­quests are granted but that Polan­ski’s case may cause pros­e­cu­tors to con­sider fu­ture cases more care­fully.

“U.S. pros­e­cu­tors may be a lit­tle less likely to ex­pect that ex­tra­di­tion re­quests will be rub­ber-stamped,” said Rosen­bluth, a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor.

Mon­day’s vic­tory for Polan­ski does not end what a Cal­i­for­nia court of ap­peals de­scribed as “one of the long­est-run­ning sagas in Cal­i­for­nia crim­i­nal jus­tice his­tory.”

The U.S. war­rant for his ar­rest re­mains in ef­fect. The filmmaker’s crim­i­nal case in Los An­ge­les is still un­re­solved be­cause he is yet to be for­mally sen­tenced af­ter plead­ing guilty to hav­ing sex with a mi­nor. And the U.S. can ask other coun­tries to ex­tra­dite him if he is caught trav­el­ing.

But the Swiss de­ci­sion means that Polan­ski can en­joy a mea­sure of safety from ar­rest in Switzer­land, where he owns a chalet, as well as France, where his French cit­i­zen­ship pro­tects him from ex­tra­di­tion.

In free­ing Polan­ski, the Swiss Depart­ment of Jus­tice and Po­lice also faulted U.S. au­thor­i­ties for not seek­ing his ex­tra­di­tion sooner. It was gen­er­ally well-known that Polan­ski reg­u­larly stayed in Switzer­land af­ter his 2006 pur­chase of a home in the ski re­sort of Gs­taad, the min­istry said in its state­ment, but the U.S. did not seek his ar­rest in the coun­try un­til last year.

But the ex­tra­di­tion case also touched on an­other key ques­tion: How long did Polan­ski have left to serve in prison in the case he fled?

The Swiss-U.S. treaty al­lows ex­tra­di­tion from Switzer­land when fugi­tives have at least six months to serve be­hind bars.

U.S. pros­e­cu­tors said Polan­ski faces up to two years in prison.

Do­minic Favre

Ro­man Polan­ski

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