Roman Polanski freed: Can he travel anywhere?

Roman Polanski was released from house arrest in Switzerland Monday after the country denied a US extradition request. But Polanski could still encounter trouble if he travels.

Anja Niedringhaus/AP
A Swiss policeman stands outside Roman Polanski's chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland, Monday. Mr. Polanski will not be extradited to the US and was released from house arrest in his chalet Monday.

Roman Polanski is a free man, as the Swiss government has declined to extradite him to the US on charges of having sex in 1977 with an underage girl. Does that mean the famous film director now can travel wherever he wants?

No, he probably can’t. Unless the United States openly declares that it is no longer interested in pursuing him, Mr. Polanski still risks arrest and jail if he enters a country that has an extradition treaty with the US.

That risk might be small. After all, Polanski visited his chalet in Switzerland for decades prior to his arrest last September. But Polanski’s lawyers almost certainly will advise him that it is a risk he should not run, given his recent near-return to the Los Angeles county jail.

“I think it is not true he is free to go anywhere,” says Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.

Polanski will be safe in France. He holds dual French/Polish citizenship, and France does not extradite its own citizens. Switzerland is also likely open to the director, given today’s release.

Other European nations may follow this lead. Still, Polanski may now be confined to a circumscribed area of the world – albeit a comfortable, prosperous zone of the northern latitudes. After all, the US has extradition treaties with most of the globe's nations.

Monday’s decision by the Swiss was a stunning end to a case which at one point had seemed likely to result in Polanski’s extradition.

Swiss authorities said they freed Polanski because the US did not provide confidential testimony about the sentencing procedure Polanski was subject to in 1977 and 1978.

Polanski was accused of providing his victim with alcohol and drugs during a modeling shoot and then raping her. He was initially indicted on six felony charges, including rape, but in the end pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual conduct.

According to Polanski’s attorneys, the judge in the case, who is now deceased, had agreed to sentence Polanski to only a 90-day diagnostic study. The judge then apparently changed his mind, and summoned Polanski for further sentencing. At that point Polanski fled the US for his native France.

He was arrested last September in Zurich upon his arrival to participate in a film festival, following a US request to Swiss authorities.


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