Decision on Polanski release appeal expected soon

Roman Polanski will find out this week whether he will be granted an unlikely release from prison pending his possible extradition to the United States for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977, a Swiss official said on Tuesday.

The 76-year-old director’s legal team filed the appeal with the Swiss Justice Ministry on September 29, the same day it initiated a parallel process in the Swiss courts that also seeks Polanski’s freedom.

The government will rule on the first appeal by Friday, said ministry spokesperson Folco Galli, adding that both cases are essentially the same.

“If we find that there are no longer grounds for his
imprisonment, then it is clear and he will be released,” Galli told the Associated Press.

While the filmmaker’s lawyers are hoping he could get out on bail or under house arrest, two former Zurich prosecutors have said Polanski stands a minimal chance of an immediate release.

Dieter Jann said extradition would be hard to fight, and he thought Switzerland had followed procedures correctly. Peter Cosandey added that Polanski was unlikely to be released because he is not a permanent resident and had already jumped bail years ago in the US.

Polanski was apprehended on September 26 as he arrived in Zurich to receive an award from a film festival. Authorities in Los Angeles consider him a convicted felon and a fugitive, and Switzerland says there has been an international warrant out on him since 2005.

Polanski was accused of plying the underage girl with champagne and part of a Quaalude pill during a modelling shoot in 1977, and raping her.
He was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy.

He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse. In exchange, the judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and sentence 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.

The judge responded by saying he was going to send Polanski back to jail for the remainder of the 90 days and that afterward he would ask Polanski to agree to a “voluntary deportation”. Polanski then fled the country, on February 1 1978, the day he was scheduled to be sentenced to the additional time.

Galli confirmed that Washington has yet to file a formal request seeking extradition ahead of a late November deadline, but he said the US probably wouldn’t need its entire 60-day period to submit all documents.

“I assume this is a priority case in the United States,” Galli said.

If Polanski loses his first challenge to his detention, he will likely have to remain in prison for months as his parallel case in the Swiss courts progresses. The Federal Criminal Court has said it will rule in the case in the “next weeks”, and a verdict in either direction can be appealed to the country’s highest judicial body, the Federal Tribunal.

Galli said the director of Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby and The Pianist would remain in prison for the duration of this process.

Polanski has received backing from directors and film stars in Hollywood and Europe, and from government officials in France and Poland, where he holds citizenship. But some of that support has waned since the original shock of his arrest, with leading French and Polish officials urging a more restrained reaction considering the crime.

In Switzerland, debate has raged among parliamentarians and cultural figures over the neutral country’s role in arresting Polanski as he came to attend a government-backed festival. Few, however, have challenged the legality of his imprisonment and likely extradition.

Former Justice Minister Christoph Blocher said last week the director should have been warned—an assertion rejected by legal experts—but added that the case against Polanski now was quite simple and that he “must be extradited”.

Polanski and the victim, Samantha Geimer, reached a $500 000 settlement in October 1993, according to documents recently released in Los Angeles.

Geimer, who long ago identified herself, sued Polanski in December 1988 when she was 25 years old, alleging sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and seduction. She has since joined in Polanski’s bid for dismissal and has forgiven him.—Sapa-AP