Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough, according to Roman Polanski's most famous film, Chinatown.
The director himself is now one step closer to outlasting his 1977 rape case, after Swiss authorities ruled they would not extradite him to the United States.
The 76-year-old Mr. Polanski left his chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland, for the first time since December Monday, free of the confines of house arrest, an electronic monitoring bracelet and the threat, for now, of facing jail time in California.
"He is a free man since 11:30 today," Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said Monday. "He can go to France or to Poland, anywhere where he will not be arrested."
Freedom, for Mr. Polanski, still comes with a specific list of destinations.
He is expected to return to France, where he holds citizenship. He fled there more than 30 years ago after pleading guilty to one count of unlawful intercourse after being charged in Los Angeles with drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl.
France does not extradite its own citizens, and photographers gathered yesterday outside the Paris home Mr. Polanski shares with his wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, and their two children. Mr. Polanski has received much high-profile support from French intellectuals since he was arrested in Switzerland last September at the request of American authorities.
Beyond France, Switzerland and Poland, where he was born and also holds citizenship, the extent of the Hollywood legend's future travel depends largely on how the Los Angeles district attorney decides to proceed.
Yesterday, a spokesperson for the agency said they were not commenting on the Swiss decision at this time. But U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said he was "disappointed" in the development.
"The rape of a 13-year-old girl by an adult who should know better and does know better is a crime," Mr. Crowley said. "We will continue to seek justice in this case and we will evaluate our options."
Some had hoped Mr. Polanski's arrest in Switzerland, where he had arrived to accept a lifetime achievement award, would finally bring to a close the decades-long case.
Ms. Widmer-Schlumpf defended her decision not to extradite the celebrity, citing technical faults in the U.S. request for extradition. The U.S. Justice Department failed to provide records of a hearing in which the director said his case had been settled and a sentence agreed upon, she said.
"In these circumstances it is not possible to exclude with the necessary certainty that Roman Polanski has already served the sentence he was condemned to at the time and that the extradition request is undermined by a serious fault," the minister said. "Considering the persisting doubts concerning the presentation of the facts of the case, the request has to be rejected."
After being charged with six felony counts, including rape and sodomy, Mr. Polanski pleaded guilty to the lesser charge in return for a reduced sentence, admitting that he had sex with the girl after plying her with drugs and alcohol.
He served 42 days at a secure unit undergoing psychiatric evaluation but fled on the eve of his sentencing in 1978, fearful that the judge had changed his mind on the plea agreement and would send him to jail.
Ms. Widmer-Schlumpf said her decision had nothing to do with the original crime. "This is not about qualifying a crime. That is not our duty. This is not about deciding on guilt or innocence," she said.
She also defended Swiss authorities' decision to release Mr. Polanski from house arrest, saying the arrangement was not influenced by his celebrity, but because he put up $4.5-million (U.S.) as bail, which would have been forfeited had he fled again.
Mr. Polanski completed a film during his house arrest. Most European nations, including Germany, Italy and Britain, have extradition agreements with the United States.
THE FUGITIVE'S TALE
- The fugitive Filmmaker Roman Polanski, born in Paris, 1933. He began making Hollywood inroads in the 1970s with a string of films that were sometimes absurd and terrifying. In 2003, he was awarded an Oscar for The Pianist.
- Samantha Geimer (née Gailey), a 13-year-old aspiring actress when she encountered Mr. Polanski in 1977.
Mr. Polanski's promise
- "My mother as a working actress, and I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be famous - a movie star," Ms. Geimer told People Magazine in 1997. "When Polanski said he'd take some pictures of me and put them in a European magazine, it was exciting. We thought it would be a good thing for my career," she said.
The photo shoot
- March 10, 1977. Mr. Polanski decided to use the Mulholland Drive home of his friend, actor Jack Nicholson, as a backdrop for the photo shoot. "Polanski asks me to pose, drinking champagne. He keeps refilling my glass. Then he asks me to pose topless again and says he wants to take pictures in the Jacuzzi. I don't have my bathing suit so I get in in my underwear," Ms. Geimer recounted in 1997 to People. "He takes pictures, then he gets in naked … so I tell him I have asthma and to take me home. I get out."
- Mr. Polanski gave Samantha a piece of a Quaalude (a popular sedative used recreationally in the 1970s). Ignoring her protests, he forced her to have intercourse with him. He was later charged.
The plea deal
- Mr. Polanski pleaded guilty to the unlawful sexual intercourse charge - prosecutors then dropped charges of rape, drugging and sodomy, which could have carried a life sentence - and was sentenced to 42 days in prison.
- Although his plea bargain was initially approved, Mr. Polanski was concerned the judge would go back on his word and issue him a much harsher sentence. In 1978 he fled to France.
- In 1997, Ms. Geimer went public with her identity - and forgiveness of Mr. Polanski - after reports surfaced that his lawyers were trying to cut a deal with officials in Los Angeles for his return. Their efforts failed then, and again last year when an L.A. judge refused to dismiss the case.
- While trying to enter Switzerland in September of 2009 to receive a prize from the Zurich Film Festival, Mr. Polanski was arrested on the same 1978 warrant issued after he fled the United States. In December, Swiss authorities allowed him to move to his chalet in the ski resort of Gstaad under house arrest on bail of $4.5-million (U.S.) pending a decision on his extradition.