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Switzerland Frees Polanski Stating U.S. Refused Testimony

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by underthesea

underthesea's picture
In The News

Roman Polanski will now stay a free man to live abroad as Switzerland refuses to extradite the director following Polanski’s Swiss house arrest since September--claiming that its request for sealed Gunson testimony was denied by the United States.

Switzerland's Ministry of Justice announces it will not extradite film producter Roman Polanski to the U.S.—in order for him to face sentencing for child sex charges. Convicted in the United States almost 35 years ago, Polanski never served jail or prison time, instead fleeing the country in 1978 to live as a free man abroad.

Switzerland refused the Polanski extradition because the country claims it was denied access to secret testimony about his expected sentence on the decades-old sex charge—while officials in Washington and Los Angeles were left facing the question: Why was a judge in the Polanski case allowed to believe that the Swiss authorities had no interest in the sealed account?

Polanski was freed by Switerzerland after the director had been under house arrest since September 2009 and pending possible extradition to the United States--to face sentencing for having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl, to which the director previously pleaded guilty.

In a letter notifying Polanski’s European legal team of the decision, the Swiss justice department said it had asked the United States Department of Justice on May 5, 2010, for access to sealed testimony of Roger Gunson in the Polanski case of 35 years prior.

Gunson, now a retired prosecutor who originally handled the Polanski case, had testified earlier in 2010 about a plan under which Judge Laurence J. Rittenband, now deceased, had intended to limit Polanski’s United States legal sentence to a 90-day psychiatric evaluation--part of which Polanski had served. But the legal testimony was sealed by the courts against possible future use if Mr. Gunson, who was ill, should not be available at a future sentencing hearing.

The U.S. says Polanski’s American legal team—not European or Swiss legal representation--asked Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza to unseal the Gunson testimony, which might have instead indicated that director Polanski was going to receive a possible legal sentence too short of a term to qualify for extradition to another country—namely the United States. May 10, Judge Espinoza denied the request to unseal the Gunson testimony and cited a written assurance on May 6 by David Walgren, a U.S. prosecutor who currently handles the Polanski case, that the Swiss government had never made the request.

“They [the Swiss government] have indicated that they need no further information,” Judge Espinoza said during the May 10 hearing where Walgren appeared in person. “Particularly, they are not interested in what is contained within the four corners of the transcript.”

Switzerland claims the U.S. denied access to the Gunson testimony on May 13, according to the Swiss account.

The Los Angeles district attorney’s office has not commented, and a spokesman for the U.S. superior court says Judge Espinoza is supposedly unavailable to comment.

At the U.S. court hearing, prosecutor Walgren said, “No such request has ever been received by the people.”

Los Angeles district attorney Steve Cooley said Monday that extradition will be sought if Polanski is arrested someplace else—as in the off-chance the director just happens to be arrested on yet another country’s soil.

"I am deeply disappointed that the Swiss authorities denied the [United States] request to extradite Roman Polanski," D.A. Cooley has told the media. "Our office complied fully with all of the factual and legal requirements of the extradition treaty and requests by the U.S. and Swiss Departments of Justice and State. We will discuss with the Department of Justice the extradition of Roman Polanski if he's arrested in a cooperative jurisdiction."

Polanski had previously pled guilty in a Los Angeles court—admitting guilt in having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 where the director gave the young teen champagne and the tablet form of Quaaludes during time of a photo shoot. He’d fled to Europe before his court sentencing over the guilty plea—and, as a bargain for his guilty plea, rape and other charges had been dropped.

Apparently no one—or no one that’s telling—knows where Polanski is hiding out now in Europe.

"We only formally request when we are notified by a government that the fugitive is in their country," Cooley said in the statement. "The request was filed immediately by this office after the Swiss notified us of Polanski's expected arrival at the Zurich film festival in September 2009."

Cooley adds that countries that won't release Polanski to the U.S. for sentencing are doing a "disservice to justice and other victims as a whole. To justify their finding to deny extradition on an issue that is unique to California law regarding conditional examination of a potentially unavailable witness is a rejection of the competency of the California courts. The Swiss could not have found a smaller hook on which to hang their hat."

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