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Roman Polanski Extradition Request Rejected by Poland’s Supreme Court

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Roman Polanski at a court hearing in Krakow, Poland, in 2015. The Krakow prosecutor’s office had sought Mr. Polanski’s extradition on behalf of the United States. Credit Kacper Pempel/Reuters

WARSAW — The Polish Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a government request to extradite Roman Polanski, an Oscar-winning filmmaker, to the United States over a decades-old conviction for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

As a practical matter, even a ruling in favor of the government would have had little effect. Mr. Polanski, a dual citizen of France and Poland, lives in France, which does not extradite its citizens.

The legal effort reflects a broader effort by the conservative Law and Justice government, which has been calling since coming to power a year ago for a return to Roman Catholic values in Poland, to reinforce its reputation as a law-and-order party.

The decision on Tuesday came six months after the chief prosecutor and justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, asked the court to overrule a verdict as the government sought the extradition of Mr. Polanski, whom the authorities in the United States have wanted for decades.

Mr. Polanski was first arrested in 1977 on charges that included the rape of the 13-year-old girl at the home of the actor Jack Nicholson. In 1978, he left the United States on the eve of sentencing under an agreement by which he was to plead guilty to a count of statutory rape.

In October 2015, a judge in Krakow, Poland, ruled that turning over Mr. Polanski would be an “obviously unlawful” deprivation of liberty, saying that the state of California, where he was convicted, was unlikely to conduct a fair trial and provide humane conditions of confinement for the director, who was 82 at the time.

The Krakow prosecutor’s office, which had sought Mr. Polanski’s extradition on behalf of Los Angeles County, said a month later that it would abide by the judge’s ruling.

Mr. Ziobro appealed the decision to the Supreme Court at the end of May, calling the trial judge’s ruling “incomprehensible” and a “serious breach” of the extradition agreement between Poland and the United States.

Mr. Ziobro said in an interview with Polish state radio in May that Mr. Polanski had received preferential treatment because of his fame.

“If he was just a regular guy, a teacher, doctor, plumber, decorator, then I’m confident that he’d have been deported from any country to the U.S. a long time ago,” he said.

In his opening statement on Tuesday, Jan Olszewski, a lawyer for Mr. Polanski, recalled how the Swiss authorities had declined in 2010 to extradite the director of “Chinatown” because of doubts over the conduct of the judge in his original trial.

Jerzy Stachowicz, another lawyer for Mr. Polanski, argued in court that his client had not technically fled the United States because he was never prohibited from leaving.

“Mr. Polanski didn’t flee, as it is believed,” Mr. Stachowicz said. “He simply bought a plane ticket, checked in his luggage and boarded a plane. It was not fleeing.”

Referring to Mr. Ziobro’s argument, Mr. Stachowicz contended, “If Mr. Polanski were not a celebrity, a famous filmmaker, but he was an average Joe, this case would have been over long ago, and nobody would have ever heard of it.”

The Supreme Court ruling means that Mr. Polanski, now 83, would be free to work in Poland. He is directing a film about Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jew who was wrongly accused of spying and whose case raised a debate in the late 19th century about prosecutorial misconduct.

The film, “The Dreyfus Affair,” was initially to be shot in Poland, but it was announced in June that Mr. Polanski had decided to make it in France.

That prompted speculation that his legal problems had led him to move production of the film, but Robert Benmussa, the producer of the movie, attributed the decision to French tax incentives, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Mr. Polanski, who lives with his wife in France, was not present in court on Tuesday.

“This is just too emotional for him,” Mr. Stachowicz, said by telephone on Monday, before the ruling. “This has been going on for such a long time. A ruling against overruling the first verdict would be a great relief for him.”

Judge Michal Laskowski ruled that the initial verdict was not a “flagrant violation of the law,” as the appeal request claimed.

“The regional court of Krakow considered and verified all evidence exceptionally carefully,” Judge Laskowski said.

After the ruling was announced, Mr. Olszewski, the lawyer, said he had just spoken to Mr. Polanski on the phone. “ He is currently in France where he is shooting his new film,” Mr. Olszewski said. “He is beyond happy that this is finally over. At least in Poland.”

Source: NYT > World

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