For Polanski, An Old Life Returns
First Published: July 13, 2010 3:22 PM EDT Credit: Getty Images
GENEVA, Switzerland -- Roman Polanski may once again be seen on the red carpet at Cannes — but he won’t be attending the Venice Film Festival or the Oscars anytime soon.
Freed from Swiss house arrest after the government refused to deport him to the United States, the 76-year-old movie director still faces an Interpol warrant in effect for 188 countries for a 1977 child sex case.
That means now, more than ever, Polanski is truly safe from arrest only in his home nations of France and Poland, and — due to this week’s stunning decision — Switzerland.
“He is in the situation he was in a year ago,” said Georges Kiejman, a France-based lawyer for Polanski. “He is free to travel in Switzerland, in France, in Poland, and in all the countries that don’t have extradition agreements with the United States.”
Still, publicity about his case and the looming warrant is certain to curtail the director’s future travels.
Most of Europe has arrangements with Washington on sending wanted individuals back and forth, but Polanski has traveled freely in numerous European countries since fleeing U.S. justice in 1978. He made his latest film “The Ghost Writer,” in Germany last year and visited Austria just before the Swiss arrested him in September.
Polanski’s whereabouts were still unclear Tuesday, a day after the Swiss government surprisingly decided to refuse a U.S. extradition request for the filmmaker to be sentenced for having sex with a 13-year-old girl. Prosecutors in Los Angeles and justice officials in Washington have said they will continue to pursue Polanski.
Kiejman told The Associated Press that his client was “happy with his freedom.”
“Give him a few days to breathe,” Kiejman added, calling on the U.S. to scrap its international arrest warrant.
Since fleeing Los Angeles on the eve of on the eve of his Feb. 1, 1978, sentencing, the Oscar-winning director of “Rosemary’s Baby,” '‘Chinatown” and “The Pianist” has mainly lived in France, which does not extradite its own citizens. And he’s spent long periods of time in Switzerland, which allowed him to buy a home in 2006.
Polanski, who survived the Holocaust and lost his mother at Auschwitz, also has Polish citizenship and can travel safely to the country where he spent most of his childhood.
But, after that, it’s not so clear.
Italy has a long track record of working closely with American authorities and would likely go along with an American request to arrest Polanski. U.S.-Italian extradition problems have mainly centered on crimes that could entail the death penalty, which is irrelevant in Polanski’s case.But that still means an appearance at the Venice Film Festival is probably out of the question.
Britain has an extradition treaty with the United States, and the Home Office says if there is a U.S. warrant out for Polanski’s arrest and he was in the country, they would have to act on it. In 2005, Polanski successfully sued Vanity Fair magazine for libel in a London court, but could only testify by video from Paris.
Germany has a treaty with the U.S., too, but said Tuesday it wouldn’t extradite Polanski. Justice Ministry spokesman Ulrich Staudigl told the AP that Polanski isn’t on a German wanted list and can continue to travel to the country. Officials in Austria also showed lenience, saying he was free to come and go without a specific request for his arrest.
That had been the case in Switzerland, where Polanski traveled for years after his flight from U.S. justice, only to be arrested in September as he arrived in Zurich to receive an award at a film festival. Now, his safety has been legally guaranteed by the Swiss government.
“The decision has been taken and the file is closed,” Swiss Justice Ministry spokesman Guido Balmer told The AP. “It would only be a different situation if it concerned a new crime.”
Balmer said Polanski could even seek compensation for the two months he spent in prison and the seven months he was confined to his luxury chalet in the Swiss Alps.
Polanski was accused of plying his victim with champagne and part of a Quaalude during a 1977 modeling shoot and raping her. He was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy, but pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse.
In exchange, a Los Angeles judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and sentence him to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation. He was released after 42 days by an evaluator who deemed him mentally sound and unlikely to offend again, but the judge threatened further sanctions and Polanski fled the United States.
The Swiss government said its decision to reject extradition was partly based on U.S. authorities’ failure to turn over transcripts of secret testimony given by the attorney who originally handled the director’s case. The testimony “should prove” that Polanski already served his sentence with the court-ordered diagnostic study, the Swiss Justice Ministry said.
Justice officials in Los Angeles and Washington decried the decision, and vowed to continue barring Polanski from the United States. L.A. prosecutors also said Polanski needed to return in person if he wanted to argue that his case was mishandled.
There was little fear the Swiss decision could damage Swiss-U.S. cooperation. Bilateral relations soured after a tax scandal involving wealthy Americans hiding money in the biggest Swiss bank, UBS AG, but improved with Switzerland’s approval of a settlement to the dispute and its acceptance of three prisoners for resettlement from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.
But in a country long known for the low tax rates it offers the super-wealthy, many here were left with the impression that Polanski’s case showed how the rich and famous enjoy special privileges in Switzerland.
“If the main character in this drama hadn’t been Roman Polanski, but an unknown amateur actor, he would now be standing before a U.S. court,” the daily Neue Luzerner Zeitung said in an opinion piece.
The main issue appeared to be how the Swiss government expanded its focus beyond the formalities of the American extradition request to pass judgment on allegations of misconduct by Los Angeles authorities.
“This was an admission that when higher interests are at stake, not everyone is equal before the law,” wrote the widely respected Neue Zuercher Zeitung newspaper. “Some are a bitmore equal.”
Another Zurich paper, the Tages-Anzeiger, called the Swiss decision “shaky.”
“It breaks with the tradition of only examining the formal correctness of extradition requests,” it said. “Perhaps the new practice will in the future also benefit detainees who have less of a lobby than the world-famous director.”
Polanski’s future plans were are unclear, but people close to the filmmaker have said he was looking into directing a movie version of the Broadway show “God of Carnage.”
And he may just turn up this weekend at Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival, where his wife, French singer Emmanuelle Seigner, is scheduled to perform Saturday.
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