Swiss authorities have just announced they have released French director Roman Polanski, as they have decided to pass on extraditing him to Los Angeles to face sentencing for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
The decision, released by the Justice Ministry in Berne, ended nearly 10 months of legal discussions between the U.S. Justice Department and Polanski’s team of attorneys. The 76-year-old Oscar-winning filmmaker was intially put in a Swiss jail, and then put under house arrest in his ski chalet at the Gstaad ski resort.
The Swiss Justice Ministry wrote in a statement that the decision was made over doubts in the legal power of the U.S. extradition request, specifically related to negotiations between Los Angeles prosecutors and Polanski’s U.S. attorneys at the time. The decision allows Polanski to leave Switzerland, and return to his home in France.
The Justice Ministry cited that Switzerland’s decision was not a determination of Polanski’s guilt or innocence, but centered around the validity of the extradition request.
Polanski was arrested in September 2009, as he traveled to Zurich to be honored with a lifetime achievement award at a film festival. He won Academy Award nominations for “Chinatown” (1974), “Tess” (1980) and “The Pianist,” for which he earned the 2002 Oscar.
He has been wanted by U.S. authorities since fleeing the United States over three decades ago before his 1978 sentencing hearing in Los Angeles. He had taken a plea bargain under which Polanski acknowledged having illegal sex with the girl during a modeling shoot while at the residence of “Chinatown” actor Jack Nicholson. Before accepting the deal from prosecutors, Polanski also had been facing charges of child molestation, rape and sodomy, and providing the girl with drugs.
Prior to his arrest in Switzerland, he has lived in his native France while avoiding countries with strong extradition agreements with the United States.