Switzerland's decision on extraditing Roman Polanski will be made after a California court rules whether he can be sentenced in absentia in a 33-year-old sex case, a Swiss official said Wednesday.
Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli told The Associated Press that a judgment on sending Polanski back to Los Angeles was still pending, but provided the clearest timeline to date for when Swiss authorities may close their examination.
"The Justice Ministry will decide on the extradition only after the California Court of Appeal has decided whether to hold proceedings in absentia," Galli said. "This action allows the extradition process to adapt to the U.S. proceedings."
Galli's statement adds even more weight to an upcoming verdict by California's 2nd District Court of Appeal.
If it grants Polanski's request to be sentenced in absentia, it could mean that the 76-year-old director avoids a forced return to the United States. The Swiss won't extradite him unless he is given a sentence longer than six months.
But rejection from the California court might mean that time has run out for Polanski, who fled the United States in 1978 after admitting to having sex with a 13-year-old girl. The Swiss arrested him on Sept. 26 as he arrived in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award from a film festival, and imprisoned him for over two months before moving him to house arrest at his chalet in the luxury resort of Gstaad.
Galli spoke to AP a day after the contentious battle between the prosecution and defense in Polanski's case escalated, with prosecutors accusing the filmmaker's side of using "half-truths, omissions and speculation" to paint a false picture of the conflict.
Polanski's extradition is a complicated and diplomatically sensitive decision for the Swiss, as it deals with a three-decade-old case with accusations of wrongdoing by a Los Angeles judge, a confused sentencing procedure and the director's own flight from justice.
There is also Polanski's status as a cultural icon in France and Poland, where he holds dual citizenship, and his history as a Holocaust survivor whose first wife was brutally murdered by crazed followers of cult leader Charles Manson in California.
The Oscar-winning director of "Rosemary's Baby," "Chinatown" and "The Pianist" was initially accused of raping the girl after plying her with champagne and a Quaalude pill during a 1977 modeling shoot. He was indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molestation and sodomy, but he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse.
In exchange, the judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and sent him to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation. The evaluator released Polanski after 42 days, but the judge said he was going to send him back to serve out the remaining time.
Polanski then fled the U.S. on Feb. 1, 1978, the day he was to be formally sentenced. He has lived since in France, which does not extradite its citizens.