Switzerland has announced that it will not extradite Roman Polanski to the United States, it is being reported. The film director - who faces charges of unlawful sex with a minor in the United States - has been under house arrest in Switzerland since December. Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf told a news conference on Monday that a possible fault in the American application for his extradition is the reasoning behind their decision.
“He’s a free man,” she was reported as saying.
This announcement is a considerable development in a case that is now more than 30 years old. Polanski was arrested last September at the Zurich Film Festival on a warrant for a 1977 underage sex case in the United States (Polanski had fled the U.S. in 1978, just hours before he was to be sentenced). In October of last year, the U.S. formally asked for Switzerland to extradite him, amidst an controversial outcry of support for Polanski from the film community. Polanski has been in Swiss custody ever since.
The Los Angeles Times explained today that legal experts had said that, by law, Swiss justice officials "were obliged to rule on the request only on technical and administrative grounds, examining it to see that all proper procedures were followed, rather than on the actual merits of the case against Polanski. In its decision Monday, the Swiss justice department said it could not exclude the possibility that the extradition request was 'undermined by a serious fault,' because the U.S. had failed to turn over certain documents requested by the Swiss with regard to the case. Specifically, the Swiss wanted to determine whether the 42 days Polanski already served in a Los Angeles jail would have been considered sufficient time served for having sex with a minor."
Also, Swiss authorities said that, until 2009, the U.S. had not filed any extradition request against Polanski "for years," even though it "knew he had bought a house in Switzerland in 2006 and was a regular visitor there. That gave the director a reasonable expectation that he was not under threat of arrest and deportation from there."
"Roman Polanski would not have decided to go to the film festival in Zürich in September 2009 if he had not trusted that the journey would not entail any legal disadvantages for him," the Swiss justice ministry said.
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