The Swiss government declared renowned film director Roman Polanski a free man on Monday after rejecting a U.S. request to extradite him on a charge of having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl.
The Swiss mostly blamed U.S. authorities for failing to provide confidential testimony about Polanski’s sentencing procedure in 1977-1978.
The Justice Ministry also said that national interests were taken into consideration in the stunning decision.
“The 76-year-old French-Polish film director Roman Polanski will not be extradited to the USA,” the ministry said in a statement. “The freedom-restricting measures againsthim have been revoked.”
Polanski’s lawyer Herve Temime said the director was still at his Swiss chalet in the resort of Gstaad, where he has been held under house arrest since December.
Switzerland’s top justice official said he could now leave.
“Mr. Polanski can now move freely. Since 12:30 today he’s a free man,” Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf declared.
Approving extradition had seemed the likeliest scenario after Polanski was arrested on Sept. 26 as he arrived in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award from a film festival. Polanski had also suffered a series of legal setbacks this year in California courts.
Widmer-Schlumpf said the decision was not meant to excuse Polanski’s crime, saying the issue was “not about deciding whether he is guilty or not guilty.”
The Oscar-winning director of “Rosemary’s Baby,” '‘Chinatown” and “The Pianist” 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.
What happened after that is a subject of dispute. The defense says the now deceased judge, Laurence J. Rittenband, had agreed in meetings with attorneys to sentence Polanski to a 90-day diagnostic study and nothing more. The judge later changed his mind and summoned Polanski for further sentencing — at which time he fled to his native France, attorneys say.