A leading advocate for missing and exploited children says a Swiss judge’s decision not to extradite film director Roman Polanski is “disturbing.”
“Our concern is that it’s very important that no one appear to be above the law,” says Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington.
Mr. Allen fears that the opportunity to arrest and sentence Mr. Polanski is gone. “My suspicion is that Polanski will very quickly return to France, where the options for prosecution will be minimal, if any. This window is closed.”
Press reports are that Polanski immediately left his Swiss chalet where he had been under house arrest.
The next step for the US, if there is one, would be up to the prosecutor in Los Angeles, where the original case was tried in 1977, and the US Justice Department, whose Office of International Affairs pursued Polanski, who fled the country prior to sentencing.
Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said in a statement issued Monday that US believes its request to extradite Polanski was supported by the evidence, met the requirements of the extradition treaty, and involved a serious offense. “We are very disappointed in the decision of the Swiss Government,” stated Ms. Sweeney.
The government, she added, has no comment on whether it will appeal the decision, nor any comment on any future actions to try to extradite Polanski.
In 1977, Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor. However, says Allen, grand jury testimony showed he seduced a 13-year-old girl, used alcohol and drugs to lower her inhibitions, and then had sex with her. “Part of the defense has been that the sex was consensual,” says Allen. “A 13-year-old does not have the right of consent.”
Allen, whose organization works with law enforcement agencies to track down child pornographers and others who commit violence against children, is concerned that “the core act” – which he characterizes as the rape of a child – not be “minimized and trivialized.”
His lawyers in California have maintained that, back in 1977, Polanski had a deal with the judge in the case to serve a 90-day psychological evaluation period. They maintain he fled the county after the judge decided to sentence Polanski to jail time.
“There are lots of examples of plea bargains between the prosecutor and the defense [that are] not agreed to by the judge,” says Allen.
The Swiss judge sought from the US legal documents pertaining to the purported 1977 plea bargain. Her decision to release Polanski came after the US did not provide those.
“It appears the Swiss wanted to examine the whole process de novo [from the start],” says Allen.
Although not every country will extradite sex offenders, sometimes those suspects decide to return to the US anyway, Allen says. He cites a case involving a Washington State deputy sheriff arrested for producing child pornography using his daughter.
“When we identified him, he fled and went to China, with whom we have no extradition treaty,” he says. “But the Chinese arrested him on other charges and held him in a Hong Kong jail. He decided to take his chance with the US. His daughter testified against him and [he] got 50 years in prison.”