Justice Ministry to wait on California court ruling

Roman Polanski won’t be extradited to the United States until California courts resolve whether the director must be present for sentencing in his 33-year old case.

A spokesman for the Swiss Justice Ministry, Rudolf Wyss, said it made “no sense” to remove Polanski from house arrest in his Alpine chalet while his attorneys appeal a decision last month that he must be present before he would be given his punishment. Polanski plead guilty to a charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl in 1977, but left the U.S. the following year before he was formally sentenced.

“When the question is still open, why should he be extradited?” Wyss told the Associated Press. “As long as the question is still open, our decision depends on that.”

Polanski’s lawyers in the U.S. attempted to resolve his long and often strange legal limbo a year ago, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza refused to take any action unless Polanski was present. The director was arrested on Sept. 26 as he arrived in Zurich to attend a film festival, and was released two months later after posting $4.5 million in bail and agreeing to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle.

While prosecutors in Los Angeles have sought his extradition, Polanski’s lawyers have attempted to have the case dismissed, after the revelation of new evidence of judicial misconduct on the part of the original judge in his case, Laurence Rittenband, who is now deceased. A state appeals court refused to drop the case, but suggested that one of Polanski’s remedies was to be sentence in absentia. Last month, however, Espinoza refused to do so, again demanding that Polanski be present and again sending the case back to the appeals court.

“He’s still in Gstaad,” Wyss told the AP. “Even if we decide extradition, he can still appeal. This would take many months.”

The Justice Ministry’s announcement essentially buys Polanski more time, in what is somewhat of a legal impasse: Swiss authorities are awaiting sentencing to see if his punishment is less than six months, which does not fall under its extradition treaty with the U.S. But authorities in the United States have been demanding that Polanski be present, whether for sentencing or for investigation of improprieties on the part of the courts back in the 1970s.

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