Polanksi begins house arrest in plush 'prison'

Film-maker moved to his chalet as lawyers prepare to fight extradition to the US

One man's house may be his castle but in the case of film-maker Roman Polanski yesterday, released at last from his prison cell just outside Zurich, it is his luxury prison.

Chalet is the correct term for the 19,000 square foot wooden home on the edge of the gold-plated ski town of Gstaad, high in the Bernese Alps, where Polanski was deposited by Swiss police yesterday after posting bail of $4.5 million and paying $2,000 for the electronic devices that will prevent him from leaving its confines.

Lawyers for Polanski will go before a judge in Los Angeles next week to argue for the dismissal of the case, stemming from an act of unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977. If they fail, Polanski will finally face extradition to the US to stand trial.

But in the meantime, he is able now to savour a facsimile of freedom. His wife, the French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, was seen peeping from a window as a police convoy bearing the actor rolled towards the chalet. Also waiting for him inside were their two children Elvis, nine, and Moorage, who is 16.

Two police vehicles vanished into the garage of the property, which bears the name Milky Way, allowing the filmmaker to slip inside unobserved by the press. There, for the time being, he will remain. The Swiss authorities so far have not indicated they will resist his extradition to the US.

"Roman Polanski was today released from custody pending extradition and transferred to Gstaad, where he is under house arrest at his chalet," the Swiss Justice Ministry said. "Polanski has undertaken not to leave his house and property at any time." There will be no black runs this winter.

With films like Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby in his canon, Polanski, 76, has drawn sympathy from those who believe his sins are from long enough ago to be forgotten and others who argue that it is time he faced justice. After more than 30 years on the run in Europe, he was arrested on a US warrant on 26 September after landing in Zurich for a film festival there.

As places of confinement go, the chalet won't be too uncomfortable. Aside from its enormous size, it has sweeping views of the Gstaad valley and the snowy peaks that surround it. And just as so many other chalet-dwellers in the town love to hold lavish parties for the rich and fabulous of the European circuit, so Polanski will be at liberty to do just the same. He just won't be able to go to anyone else's fetes.

Conditions will be a vast improvement on life in jail, where he was able to see family and friends just one hour a week. Moreover, he arrived home knowing that the sentiment of his neighbours is largely on his side. The president of the Saanen-Gstaad community, Adlo Kropf, says he will take steps to protect the chalet from reporters if necessary.

Back in 1977, Polanski was accused of plying his teenage victim with champagne and the drug Quaalude before raping her during a modelling shoot in the home of Jack Nicholson. After prosecutors filed charges that included rape, he was allowed to enter a guilty plea to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse. But he fled the US before he could be sentenced.

Now he is back in the legal web. But if his house-arrest turns out to be protracted not everyone will be sorry for him. Gstaad is a favourite destination of the likes of Liz Taylor, Sharon Stone and (yes) Mr Nicholson. Those without their own Milky Ways can always enquire at the Gstaad Palace where the penthouse will go for approximately 13,900 Swiss francs a night (£8,300) this Christmas season.

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