The Shrinking World of Roman Polanski
Late on Thursday 22nd October 2009, the United States formally requested the extradition of Polanski to authorities in California where he faced the prospect of a prison sentence of up to two years. The request was forwarded to Zurich authorities. If they approved the extradition, Polanski would be entitled to appeal to Switzerland’s top criminal court and also the Federal Supreme Court.
The news meant the 76-year-old director faced the possibility of months in a Swiss jail as legal wrangling took place, even though it was widely felt that he stood little chance of avoiding a return to the United States after 31 years effectively on the run. It was unclear at the time whether time spent in detention in a Swiss jail would count towards any sentence later passed by an American court. However, Swiss Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli, said the sentence could be no longer than two years because under the terms of the extradition treaty between Switzerland and the United States, the director could only be punished for the crime for which he was being extradited.
In Paris, Polanski’s lawyer Herve Termine said that his client would fight any attempts to extradite him: ‘He will oppose this request and continue to ask to be released until the request is examined.’
The Swiss authorities’ decision to notify America that Polanski was expected in the country five days before he was due to arrive was defended following criticism from supporters of Polanski and questions as to why the move had been made at the time that it was. Speculation that the move came following problems between the two countries over the protection of wealthy American tax avoiders by Swiss banks were denied by both countries. The intense speculation, however, was possibly the reason Switzerland was in a hurry to expedite the extradition. Although the States had until late November 2009 to file, Swiss authorities were already intimating that they were keen to see things moving along early in October.
Polanski’s attempt to avoid extradition were dealt a blow earlier in the week when his appeal for bail was rejected by the Swiss Criminal Court because they considered him to be a high flight risk, despite offers by Polanski to undergo electric monitoring and house arrest as conditions of the bail.
In California, the Second District Court of Appeal heard an appeal from Samantha Geimer, Polanski’s rape victim, for the criminal case against the director to be dropped. In a court filing, her attorney Lawrence Silver wrote that he and Geimer had been bombarded by nearly 500 media calls since the director’s arrest. The filing alleged that Geimer, a resident of Hawaii, was stalked by journalists from around the world, and had received requests for interviews from Larry King and Oprah Winfrey. The filing stated, ‘The pursuit has caused her to have health-related issues… the pursuit has caused her performance at her job to be interfered with and has caused the understandable displeasure of her employer and the real possibility that Samantha could lose her job’.
Geimer had frequently campaigned for an end to the case after suing Polanski in 1988 when she was 25-years-old. Polanski agreed to pay her $500,000, but it had never been made clear whether she had actually received the full amount.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley argued that it was impossible to drop the charges because the law required a proper conclusion to the legal process, and that his office simply wanted to resolve the case and had no interest in persecuting Polanski.
A higher undisclosed offer of bail made by Polanski’s lawyers was rejected by Swiss authorities on Friday 30th October 2009 because the offer was not made in cash and they felt the risk that he would flee the country was too high, Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli told the media.
The request was filed late on Monday 26th October, and following the refusal Polanski had ten days to appeal the decision to the Swiss Criminal Court – although it had already ruled once that he be kept in jail following an offer of his Gstaad apartment as collateral, together with house arrest and tagging as terms of his freedom.
Although the United States’ formal request for Polanski’s extradition was made on 22nd October, Switzerland said it would need weeks to make a decision about extradition – a period which might then extend into months if the director chose to appeal.
Meanwhile, in Lausanne, the predominantly tax-financed National Film Archive announced it was organising a ‘Roman Polanski Evening’ on 4th November which would include a free screening of his 1961 film The Fat and the Lean and Charles Chaplin’s A King in New York. Lionel Baier, a spokesman for the Archive, denied that the event was a display of support for Polanski, but an attempt to highlight his importance as a filmmaker.
The following Monday (2nd November), lawyer Herve Temime announced he had submitted yet another request for bail which, he claimed, included ‘adequate guarantees’ that Polanski would not flee if released. A day earlier, Temime had hinted that the new request would involve a ‘very, very significant’ cash payment, but he made no mention of this when confirming the submission of the new request.
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