Swiss won't extradite Polanski til US case is done

February 12, 2010 6:56:43 AM PST
Swiss authorities won't extradite Roman Polanski to the United States until courts in Los Angeles rule definitively that the director must face further sentencing in person in a 32-year-old sex case, a senior official said Friday. In a new twist in Polanski's long legal saga, the Swiss Justice Ministry's deputy director said it would make "no sense" to remove him from house arrest at his Alpine chalet while he seeks to resolve his U.S. case in absentia for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl.

Polanski's lawyers insist that the 76-year-old filmmaker 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?" Rudolf Wyss told The Associated Press. "As long as the question is still open, our decision depends on that."

Wyss spoke the same day that Polanski's latest film, "The Ghost Writer," was to debut at the annual Berlin film festival. The director won't be on hand for 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 luxury 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 a Quaalude pill during a 1977 modeling 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 U.S. on Feb. 1, 1978, the day he was to be formally sentenced.

He has lived since then in France, which does not extradite its citizens, but was arrested Sept. 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 $4.5 million in bail and agreed to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet around his ankle.

"He's still in Gstaad," Wyss said. "Even if we decide on extradition, he can still appeal. This would take many months."

Still, Polanski's prospects have improved. 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.

Los Angeles prosecutors say Polanski is subject to a sentence of two years. The defense countered that he already served a sentence handed down by the original judge in the case plus over four months spent in Swiss jail and house arrest.