Switzerland frees film director Roman Polanski

Switzerland said today it would not send Roman Polanski back to the United States to face sentencing for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977, freeing the Oscar-winning director from 10 months arrest.

Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said she had decided against extradition because of potential technical faults in the U.S. request and also because Polanski had for years come to Switzerland in good faith.

"He is a free man since 1130 today," she told a news conference in Switzerland's capital Berne. "He can go to France or to Poland, anywhere where he will not be arrested."

Polanski, 76, who won a best director Oscar for his portrait of life in the Warsaw Jewish ghetto of World War Two in "The Pianist", was arrested on Sept. 26 upon arrival in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award at a film festival.

He had been under house arrest since December 2009 at his mountain chalet in the chic ski town of Gstaad on a 4.5 million Swiss franc ($4.26 million) bail, his movements constrained by an electronic foot bracelet.

"The electronic surveillance has now been switched off," Widmer-Schlumpf said.

It was unclear whether Polanski was still in Gstaad.

A person who identified herself as his assistant told Reuters over the chalet's intercom that Polanski had left Gstaad. She declined to give further details.

Polanski's arrest had prompted an outcry in the global film industry and in political circles in France, where he has been a long-time resident, with directors from Woody Allen to Martin Scorsese and Jean-Luc Godard expressing support for the Polish-French artist.

The arrest had also led to speculation, denied by the Swiss government, that the move could have been linked to a U.S.-Swiss 2009 row over a tax evasion probe against Swiss bank giant UBS.

Widmer-Schlumpf said Washington could appeal the decision internationally but she did not expect that to happen.

"This is not about qualifying a crime. That is not our duty. This is not about deciding on guilt or innocence," she said.

Polanski's release follows months of uncertainty over whether he would have to return to the United States to face sentencing.

The Swiss decision not to extradite Polanski had been all but certain after he suffered some setbacks in U.S. courts.

"It's an enormous satisfaction and a great relief after the pain suffered by Roman Polanski and his family," said Polanski's lawyer Herve Temime.

The director's release immediately drew scores of supportive comments from a French artists and high-ranking politicians.

"I am delighted with the decision," French Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner said. "The great Franco-Polish director will from now on be able to rejoin his friends and family and work fully on his artistic projects."

"Switzerland has found the path to reason...What a beautiful lesson in democracy," said Bernard Henri-Levy, philosopher and a close friend, who led calls for Polanski's freedom.

Polanski's U.S. agent and the U.S. Justice Department in Washington declined to comment.

Polanski pleaded guilty to having sex with the girl after a binge of champagne and drugs but fled the United States on the eve of his 1978 sentencing because he believed a judge might overrule his plea and put him in jail for 50 years.

Polanski has lived in Europe ever since, facing the prospect of arrest the moment he set foot back on U.S. soil while continuing his film career outside Hollywood.

Born to Polish-Jewish parents in 1933, his life was marked by a narrow escape from the Krakow ghetto and by the murder of his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, by followers of cult leader Charles Manson in 1969.

Polanski is also known for classics such as "Chinatown", which earned 11 Oscar nominations, and "Rosemary's Baby".

He completed his latest film "The Ghost", based on a Robert Harris's best-seller, while under arrest in Switzerland.

"The time for calm has come," said French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterand. "The difficult past, the rich personality, the universally-admired works of Roman Polanski should all regain their standing."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'