Gstaad, Switzerland — In a stunning ruling, Roman Polanski was declared a free man on Monday — no longer confined to house arrest in his Alpine villa after Swiss authorities rejected a U.S. request for his extradition because of a 32-year-old sex conviction.
The decision left the Oscar-winning director free to return to France and the life of a celebrity, albeit one unable to visit the United States.
Hours after the ruling was announced, Polanski’s assistant said he had left his multimillion-dollar chalet with his family. Half-empty glasses seen on a back porch testified to a hasty exit.
“Mr. Polanski can now move freely,” Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf declared. “He’s a free man.”
Switzerland, which arrested the 76-year-old Polanski last September as he arrived to receive a lifetime achievement award at a Zurich film festival, blamed U.S. authorities for its decision, citing a possible “fault in the U.S. extradition request.”
The United States failed to provide confidential testimony to refute defense arguments the filmmaker had actually served his sentence before fleeing Los Angeles three decades ago, Widmer-Schlumpf said.
The Swiss decision for now ends the United States’ long pursuit of Polanski, who has been a fugitive since fleeing sentencing for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl. But Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said his office will try again to have Polanski extradited if he is arrested in another country with a favorable extradition treaty.
Beyond the legal issue, the extradition request was complicated and diplomatically sensitive because of Polanski’s status as a cultural icon in France and Poland, where he holds dual citizenship, and his history as a Holocaust survivor whose first wife Sharon Tate was murdered in 1969 by followers of cult leader Charles Manson in California.
France, where the filmmaker has spent much of his time, does not extradite its own citizens and Polanski has had little trouble traveling throughout Europe.