Director Roman Polanski escapes accountability for raping a 13-year-old.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

SWISS OFFICIALS who refused to extradite director Roman Polanski to the United States to face punishment for a long-ago sex crime said they didn't have enough information. Maybe they neglected to read the undisputed testimony of a 13-year-old detailing how Mr. Polanski drugged, raped and sodomized her. Maybe they overlooked the transcript of Mr. Polanski's court hearing in which, pleading guilty to a lesser charge, he acknowledged knowing his victim had yet to turn 14. Or perhaps they missed his unsettling explanation to probation officers of how sex with the girl "was very spontaneous." Maybe in Switzerland the law is not offended when a criminal flees before sentencing.

The Swiss Justice Ministry announced Monday that it was denying the U.S. request for extradition and that Mr. Polanski, who had been under house arrest, was free. As part of a plea agreement with Los Angeles prosecutors, Mr. Polanski pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl to satisfy far more serious charges of rape and sodomy; he fled the country in 1978 when he feared the sentencing judge might send him to jail. The director, acclaimed for his filmmaking skills, lived with impunity abroad until he flew to Switzerland to pick up an award in September and California authorities seized the opportunity to seek his extradition. His native France, where he lives, does not extradite its citizens.

The Swiss rejection of the U.S. request, which cannot be appealed, was a surprise. The government grants the vast majority of extradition petitions, and even Mr. Polanski's lawyer said the decision was "not expected." Switzerland Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf blamed U.S. authorities for failing to provide confidential testimony about sentencing procedures used at the time of the case. This technicality essentially proved a convenient excuse for a Swiss government caught up in a wave of protest from European intellectual and political figures sympathetic to Mr. Polanski. French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterand said that Mr. Polanski was being "thrown to the lions for an old story that doesn't really make any sense." He's made terrific movies, in other words; he's one of us; why can't the Americans get past this obsession with holding child rapists accountable?

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