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Roman Polanski freeing meets with outrage from prosecutors, U.S. State Department [Updated]

July 12, 2010 |  3:32 pm

The Swiss government’s decision Monday to free Roman Polanski met with outrage from L.A. County prosecutors and the U.S. State Department.

Polanski will not be extradited to the United States to face sentencing for having sex with a girl -- the ultimate charge in the case after a plea deal – allowing him to roam freely in Switzerland and France, where he has lived since he fled the United States before his sentencing 32 years ago.

Local and federal officials vowed to continue the pursuit of Polanski, though their options are now significantly limited.

“A 13-year-old girl was drugged and raped,” said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley. “This is not a matter of technicality. To push this case aside based on technicalities we think is regrettable …. We think it sends a very important message regarding how ... women and girls are treated around the world."

Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman at the Department of Justice, which helps process extradition requests, said federal prosecutors are "very disappointed in the decision by the Swiss government."

"Whenever the United States seeks an individual's extradition, we do so on the basis that our request is supported by the facts and the terms of our treaty,’’ she said. "That is true in this case as well. We believe the extradition request submitted by the United States was fully supported by the evidence, met the requirements of the extradition treaty and involved a serious offense.’’

L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who led the effort to bring Polanski back to the U.S., said he was dumbfounded. "Mr. Polanski is still convicted of serious child sex charges," Cooley said.

[Updated at 3:18 p.m.: In a statement, Cooley added: “I am deeply disappointed that the Swiss authorities denied the request to extradite Roman Polanski. 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,” the district attorney added.]

The Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police said the U.S. had failed to turn over certain documents requested by the Swiss.

The Swiss government's announcement was a dramatic development in a case that has lasted more than 30 years. In 1978, Polanski fled the U.S. hours before he was to be sentenced for having unlawful sex with a minor.

He has not set foot in the U.S. since. Born in France, Polanski is a French citizen.

The director has been in Swiss custody since September of last year, when police in Zurich arrested him on his arrival in the city to accept a lifetime achievement award at the local film festival. The arrest was performed at the request of authorities in Los Angeles.

The U.S. lodged a formal extradition request at the end of October. Legal experts said that by law, Swiss justice officials were obliged to rule on the request only on technical and administrative grounds, examining it to see that all proper procedures were followed, rather than on the actual merits of the case against Polanski. In its decision Monday, the Swiss Justice Department said it could not exclude the possibility that the extradition request was "undermined by a serious fault" because the U.S. had failed to turn over certain documents.

Specifically, the Swiss wanted to determine whether the 42 days Polanski had already spent in a Los Angeles jail would have been considered sufficient time served for having sex with a minor.

Also, Swiss authorities said that until 2009, the U.S. had not filed any extradition request against Polanski "for years," even though it knew he had bought a house in Switzerland in 2006 and was a regular visitor there. That gave the director a reasonable expectation that he was not under threat of arrest and deportation from there.

"Roman Polanski would not have decided to go to the film festival in Zürich in September 2009 if he had not trusted that the journey would not entail any legal disadvantages for him," the Swiss justice department said.

-- Henry Chu in London and Paul Richter in Washington

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