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Polanski Set Free from Extradition

Switzerland refuses to extradite director to US for 1977 unlawful sex with a minor.
By: Rebecca Bitton
Published: July 16th, 2010 in Culture » Film » News
Roman PolanskiPic: Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski, the well-known filmmaker infamously arrested in 1977 for unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl, has been released from prison after the Swiss refused U.S. requests for Polanski to be extradited on Monday. The filmmaking fugitive served 42 days undergoing in-prison psychiatric evaluation before fleeing to France, where he was protected from extradition.

In 2009, he was taken into custody at the Zurich airport by Swiss police on U.S. government order while en route to receive an award at a film festival.  Now, according to a letter from Swiss officials, the Swiss government has asked the U.S. Justice Department to release sealed transcripts just days before a Los Angeles judge denied the Swiss had ever made that request.

However, Swiss officials say that the failure to provide transcripts, which was later discovered to be due to the refusal of the Justice Department, was a determining factor in the denial of the filmmaker’s extradition to the United States.

According to another letter to the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, a spokesman for the district attorney confirmed the L.A. judge’s denial of Switzerland’s request, saying that the office was never notified and did not know that the Justice Department had turned down the request.

The finger-pointing in this case has put the Justice Department on the defensive. For example, the Justice Department claims it kept the Los Angeles district attorney’s office fully informed of all requests from the Swiss government regarding Polanski’s case.

The Department further noted in a statement made Thursday that the DA’s office actually approved the freeing of Polanski. The statement claimed that the DA’s office "approved all responses from the U.S. government to Swiss authorities on this matter," involving testimony that proved pivotal in Switzerland's decision to free the filmmaker, rather than extradite him to the United States.

More evidence, including a letter providing a timeline of events, afforded a concrete account of when Switzerland made the request for transcripts, and when the request was turned down.

The letter also included evidence showing the Justice Department solidly refusing to expose transcripts of a testimony from Polanski’s original prosecutor, at Switzerland’s request. This refusal was indicated as the deciding factor in Switzerland rejecting the filmmaker’s expulsion.

The letter stated: "Since the additional documents requested were not transmitted in full, extradition of Roman Polanski to the United States of America is thus denied.”

Why the necessity for these transcripts? According to AP reports, the Swiss just wanted to know if Polanski had completed his sentence. The Swiss claimed from the beginning of the 33-year-old case that extradition would only be permitted if he was going to spend at least six months in an American prison. After he plead guilty to unlawful sex with a minor in 1977, Polanski avoided his sentencing by fleeing to France and has had a U.S. arrest warrant outstanding since that time. He has also had an international arrest warrant since 2005.

The miscommunication and failure to attain adequate information has catalyzed Polanski’s freedom. The letter ended emphasizing the extent of Polanski’s freedom, using his previous occupation as a property owner as "a protected value of trust" with the Swiss. 

As such, Polanski is “welcome as a buyer and vacation guest in Switzerland and there are no obstacles against necessary traveling in and out for personal use of the property."

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