Shock: Swiss Block Extradition, Free Roman Polanski

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REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/Files

In yet another surprising twist to the 33-year-old case, Swiss officials have rejected a request by the U.S. government to extradite movie director Roman Polanski. Arrested in September, under house arrest since December, Polanski will go to bed Monday night a free man. 

According to the Associated Press, Switzerland’s Justice Ministry gave several reasons for the extradition refusal, blaming U.S. authorities for failing to provide confidential testimony from Polanski’s criminal sentencing procedure in California in the late 1970s. But Swiss officials also said that “national interests” were taken into consideration. (See a two-minute biography of Roman Polanski.)

Polanski was arrested on September 26, when he arrived in the international airport in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award from a film festival. He was eventually ordered to remain under house arrest – where he actually completed work on his recent film The Ghost Writer. (See TIME’s review of The Ghost Writer.)

Since September, an array of Hollywood stars have rallied around the filmmaker, including such A-list icons as Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese.

Such stars believe that the director was treated unfairly in 1977 when he was arrested and accused of having sex with an underage 13-year-old girl. Indicted on six counts – all felonies – including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy, Polanski pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse. (See a brief history of extraditions.)

Most people involved in the case agree to the above part of the story. The contested version begins after the plea deal. Polanski’s legal team says judge Laurence J. Rittenband – now deceased – had originally agreed to sentence Polanski to a 90-day diagnostic study. But the judge later changed his mind and summoned Polanski for additional sentencing, at which point he fled Hollywood and America, never to return.

Swiss officials made no determination Monday as to the validity of the charges, or to Polanski’s claims of mistreatment: Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the extradition hearing was ”not about deciding whether he is guilty or not guilty.”

Monday’s decision almost assures Polanski that he will avoid jail for the remainder of his life.

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