BERLIN — Switzerland released Roman Polanski from house arrest on Monday after deciding not to extradite the director to the U.S. to face sentencing for having unlawful sex with a teenager over three decades ago, Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said on Monday.
“He is a free man,” Widmer-Schlumpf told a news conference in the Swiss capital city of Berne, adding Polanski had been released at 11:30 a.m. local time. “He can go to France, or to Poland, anywhere where he will not be arrested.”
Polanski, 76, was still at his mountain chalet in the ski town of Gstaad, where he had been held under house arrest. Widmer-Schlumpf said the foot bracelet that was used to monitor his movements had been switched off.
Polanski won a best director Oscar for his moving portrait of life in the Warsaw Jewish ghetto of World War II in “The Pianist.”
“This is not about qualifying a crime,” the Justice Minister told reporters. “That is not our duty. This is not about deciding on guilt or innocence.”
She said the U.S. could appeal this decision but added she did not expect that would happen.
The release came after months of uncertainty — and heightened international media attention — over whether Polanski would have to return to the U.S. He was arrested in September 2009 as he arrived in Zurich to get a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich film festival.
Polanski’s lawyer Herve Temime expressed his delight over the Swiss move. “It’s an enormous satisfaction and a great relief after the pain suffered by Roman Polanski and his family,” Temime said.
Polanski’s arrest had prompted an outcry in the global film industry and especially in France, where he has been a long-time resident.
Polanski, who holds dual French and Polish citizenship, was put under house arrest in December 2009 at his chalet in luxury ski resort Gstaad, while Swiss officials awaited the outcome of U.S. legal proceedings.
Polanski pleaded guilty to having sex with the girl but fled the U.S. on the eve of his 1978 sentencing because he believed a judge might overrule his plea.
He has lived in Europe since with the prospect of arrest looming if returned to the U.S. as he continued his film career outside Hollywood.
Polanski completed his latest film “The Ghost,” based on the Robert Harris best-seller, while under arrest in Switzerland.
Before Widmer-Schlumpf’s news conference, the Swiss Justice Ministry issued a statement on Polanski’s release that said: “The reason for the decision lies in the fact that it was not possible to exclude with the necessary certainty a fault in the U.S. extraditionary request.”