Swiss reject US bid and tell director Roman Polanski: 'You're a free man'

THE Swiss government declared the Oscar-winning film director Roman Polanski a free man yesterday, after rejecting a United States request to extradite him on a charge of having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

• Roman Polanski is a free man and can continue to live at his chalet in the Alpine resort of Gstaad

The Swiss mostly blamed US authorities for failing to provide confidential testimony about Polanski's sentencing procedure in 1977-78.

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The decision could end the US's three-decade pursuit of Polanski, unless he travels to another country that would be willing to apprehend him and send him to Los Angeles.

France, where he has spent much of his time, does not extradite its own citizens, and the public scrutiny over Switzerland's deliberations may dissuade other nations from making such a spectacular arrest.

The Swiss government said it had sought confidential testimony given on 26 January by Roger Gunson, the Los Angeles lawyer in charge of the original prosecution against Polanski. Washington rejected the request.

"Mr Polanski can now move freely. Since 12:30 today he's a free man," Swiss justice minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said.

Authorities in Los Angeles and Washington cannot appeal against the Swiss decision. Sandy Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, declined to comment.

The Oscar-winning director of Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist was accused of plying his victim with champagne and drugs during a modeling shoot and raping her. He was initially indicted on six counts, but pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse.

In exchange, the judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and sentenced him to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation.

However, he was released after 42 days by an evaluator, who deemed him mentally sound and unlikely to offend again.

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The judge responded by saying he was going to send Polanski back to jail for the remainder of the 90 days and that afterwards he would ask Polanski to agree to a "voluntary deportation".

Polanski then fled the country on the eve of his sentencing on 1 February, 1978.

Based on references to Mr Gunson's testimony in US courts, the Swiss said it "should prove" that Polanski served his sentence after undergoing 42 days of diagnostic study.

"If this were the case, Roman Polanski would actually have already served his sentence, and therefore both the proceedings on which the US extradition request is founded and the request itself would have no foundation," the ministry said.

The justice ministry also said national interests were taken into consideration in the decision, and the wishes of the victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago publicly identified herself and has joined in Polanski's bid for dismissal.

Polanski's lawyer, Herv Tmime, 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.X

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