The Swiss minister of justice announced on Monday, July 12th, that the Swiss were releasing Roman Polanski from house arrest. He was arrested in September 2009 on an outstanding international warrant after he had arrived in Zurich to receive a life-time achievement award at a film festival. Polanski was wanted for fleeing the United States to avoid the legal ramifications from his admitted rape of a 13-year-old girl, Samantha Geimer, who is now 46.
Tipped off that Polanski would be in Switzerland, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley sent an arrest warrant to Switzerland. The 77-year-old Oscar-winning film director was arrested and jailed, much to his surprise and the world’s. Polanski had bought a house in Gstaad in 2006 and had been traveling to Switzerland often.
Eventually, he was allowed to be held under house arrest in his Gstaad ski chalet, monitored by an electronic ankle bracelet.
In October 2009, the United States officially asked for his extradition. As he fled sentencing for one count of statutory rape that he had plea-bargained for, he would have been open to trial on the grand jury charges that had been dropped as part of the plea, such as perversion and sodomy (oral and anal copulation) and providing a controlled substance to a minor. If convicted, the the elderly Polanski may well have died in prison, either from old age or the jail house justice meted out to pedophiles.
Polanski reportedly fled the U.S. not for the reason he stated — that he feared the judge would give him 50 years in prison, but because he feared being executed in prison. American prisoners intensely dislike pedophile prisoners. Child molesters often are targeted for murder.
The Oscar-wining film director, who is considered an international fugitive from justice, has been very careful in the past 32 years since fleeing California. He has avoided traveling in countries like Britain that have extradition treaties with the United States. Both France, where Polanski is a citizen (he was born in Paris in 1933 of Polish parents), and Switzerland, where he has owned a ski chalet in Gstaad since 2006, have extradition treaties with the U.S., but France seldom extradites its own citizens.
The Swiss Ministry of Justice, in justifying its release of Polanski, actually faulted the United States for not asking for him to be extradited earlier. Since the U.S. hadn’t pursued Polanski legally in the four years since he bought property in Switzerland, it gave him a false sense of security, according to their reasoning. The director would not have entered the country had he known the U.S. government was after him and he was subject to arrest and deportation.
Switzerland had allowed Polanski free egress over its borders for years. His arrest allegedly was done as a favor to the U.S government, which had been embroiled with the Swiss government over the Swiss bank UBS abetting tax-dodging by American citizens. Once negotiations over UBS broke down, the chances of Polanski’s being extradited to California became moot.
Beyond the Catch-22-style justification that Polanski would not have come to Switzerland if he knew the Americans would be after him, the Swiss Ministry of Justice cited other technicalities justifying their release of Polanski, technicalities that should have had no bearing on the case.
The Swiss Ministry of Justice first asked if Polanski could be tried in absentia in Switzerland, but the United States demurred. It then decided it should determine whether the 42 days out of an original 90-day sentence Polanski spent in Chino State Prison for a psychiatric evaluation represented his having fulfilled his sentence as part of the plea bargain deal his original attorneys had struck with the presiding judge, who now is dead.
Roman Polanski has long contended that he fled the U.S. as someone overheard the judge at a country club saying that he was going to renege on the plea bargain and throw the book at the director. Later, this was expanded into charges of judicial misconduct.
The Swiss demanded to know about the judge and wanted the sealed records of the case. According to the Los Angeles Times, legal experts contend that Switzerland’s MInistry of Justice has no right to retry the case but is required to rule on the merits of the American request for extradition of a fugitive only on administrative and technical grounds. The Swiss were supposed to determine whether American officials had fulfilled the proper procedures in filing their request for extradition; they are not supposed to consider the actual merits of the case.
Ironically, the Swiss Ministry of Justice had stated, at the time of Polanski’s arrest, that a consideration of the original trial judge’s allegedly improper behavior would not a consideration in dealing with the director. Eventually, they did a 180 degree about face.
The Swiss Ministry of Justice, in announcing its decision not to extradite Polanski to the U.S. and let him go free, declared that American officials did not turn over documentation it had requested. Thus, it was rejecting the extradition request as it was “undermined” by this “serious fault” on the part of the U.S.
The Swiss Minister of Justice went further in declaring that Polanski had fulfilled his sentence by serving 42 days. In essence, the Swiss Ministry of Justice was violating international protocols with its decision, which ultimately was political.
The Los Angeles Times used the word “dumbfounded” to describe L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley’s reaction to the Swiss rejection of his extradition request. The newspaper quoted Cooley as saying, “Mr. Polanski is still convicted of serious child sex charges.”
The D.A. issued a formal statement declaring his disappointment with the actions of the Swiss. Cooley said that the Swiss Justice Ministry’s decision to free Polanski was a “disservice to justice and other victims as a whole.”
The statement declared that the District Attorney’s Office “complied fully with all of the factual and legal requirements of the extradition treaty and requests by the U.S. and Swiss Departments of Justice and State.”
Cooley believes that the Swiss were looking for an excuse to free the director, who has many powerful friends in France. The director has many friends in high places in France.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy went so far as passing on a letter penned by Polanski that was a plea for a pardon to President Barack Obama. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner lobbied U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Polanski’s behalf, but she demurred as only California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger could give Polanski a pardon.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which helped process the request for extradition, denounced the development in the Polanski case. DOJ spokesperson Laura Sweeney said that the DOJ was “very disappointed in the decision by the Swiss government. “
She went on to claim, “We believe the extradition request submitted by the United States was fully supported by the evidence, met the requirements of the extradition treaty and involved a serious offense.”
The U.S. State Department joined the DOJ in denouncing the Swiss decision to free Polanski. State Department Spokesperson Philip Crowley told the press, “A 13-year-old girl was drugged and raped.”
Crowley went on to say, “This is not a matter of technicality. To push this case aside based on technicalities we think is regrettable…. We think it sends a very important message regarding how … women and girls are treated around the world.”
L.A. D.A. Steve Cooley must wait until Polanski is arrested again under the international warrant, which is unlikely as the director has been very canny in the past about his travels.