Swiss authorities have decided not to extradite famed film director Roman Polanski to the United States, where he is wanted on a charge of having sex with an underage girl 33 years ago.
Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf declared Polanski, who has spent the last nine months under house arrest at his chalet in Gstaad, "a free man" today.
She said the decision was made after U.S. authorities rejected a Swiss request for access to confidential testimony given earlier this year by the Los Angeles-based attorney who prosecuted the original case against Polanski in 1977.
In a statement, the Swiss Justice Ministry said extradition had to be rejected "considering the persisting doubts concerning the presentation of the facts of the case."
Speaking in Paris, Polanski's lawyer, Herve Temime, said the Swiss decision was correct and condemned the extradition request.
He said it was "based on information and facts that are erroneous and on lies, and as Mr. Polanski wrote -- on the only occasion when he broke his silence -- he feels that he has already been punished."
The decision cannot be appealed by the U.S. authorities. Both the U.S. Justice Department and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office declined to comment.
Three Decades As Fugitive
Polanski, 76, was born in France to Polish parents and holds dual French-Polish citizenship. He is an Oscar-winning director of such Hollywood films as "Chinatown," "Rosemary's Baby," and "The Pianist."
In 1977 he was accused in Los Angeles of giving a 13-year-old girl alcohol and prescription drugs and then raping her. Prosecutors charged him with six felony counts, including rape by the use of drugs, child molesting, and sodomy. Polanski made a deal with prosecutors and ended up pleading guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse.
He served 42 days of a 90-day prison sentence, which included a psychiatric evaluation, before being released on bail by a counselor who declared him mentally fit and unlikely to commit another crime.
But the judge in the case then announced that he planned to resentence Polanski to the remaining 48 days in prison and require him to agree to "voluntary deportation" afterward.
The director fled the country the night before the February 1, 1978, resentencing hearing.
After more than three decades as a U.S. fugitive -- during which time he skipped the Academy Awards even when he was a nominee -- Polanski was arrested in Switzerland in September 2009 as he travelled from France to collect a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival.
Swiss police were acting in accordance with an international search warrant U.S. authorities issued in 2005.
Polanski's arrest prompted an outcry in the global film industry and in political circles in France, where he has lived for years. Directors including Woody Allen to Martin Scorsese and Jean-Luc Godard expressed their support for him.
In January of this year, the original prosecutor in the case, Roger Gunson, gave new testimony to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office about the decision to release Polanski from prison early in 1977.
It was this testimony that Swiss justice authorities unsuccessfully sought as they reviewed whether to comply with the U.S. request to extradite Polanski.
In a statement, the Swiss Justice Ministry referred to Gunson's testimony, saying the record "should prove" that the judge agreed that "the 42 days of detention spent by Roman Polanski in the psychiatric unit of a Californian prison represented the whole term of imprisonment he was condemned to."
It adds, "If this were the case, Roman Polanski would actually have already served his sentence and therefore both the proceedings on which the U.S. extradition request is founded and the request itself would have no foundation."
Widmer-Schlumpf said the decision not to extradite does not excuse Polanski's crime because the issue was "not about deciding whether he is guilty or not guilty."
The Justice Ministry also said it took into account the wishes of the victim, Samantha Geimer, who publicly identified herself several years ago and had joined calls for the case against Polanski to be dismissed.
compiled from agency reports