Poland Doubles Down on Its Decision Not to Extradite Roman Polanski

The Chinatown director has, yet again, found refuge in a European country—despite the ascendant right-wing government’s brief show of judicial muscle.
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Roman Polanski. 

Roman Polanski. 

The year 2016 has been good to alleged Hollywood abusers.

Earlier this year, Amazon Studios paid a reported $15 million for rights to accused child sex offender Woody Allen’s new movie. In November, entertainment outlets reported that accused domestic abuser Johnny Depp had been cast in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them sequel. And, yesterday, a legal decision in Poland granted yet another accused Hollywood sex offender an opportunity to continue to make movies unhindered when the Polish Supreme Court upheld its ruling against extraditing director Roman Polanski to the United States to see out a 1977 sex-abuse case. (Depp and Allen both deny the allegations.)

Yesterday’s ruling involves an October of 2015 decision by a Polish lower court that deemed sending Polanski back to the states “obviously unlawful” because it would deprive the filmmaker of his liberty. The state of California, the 2015 ruling noted, might not conduct a fair trial or provide adequate living conditions for the now-83-year-old director were he to return.

Together with the justice minister, Poland’s chief prosecutor, Zbigniew Ziobro, appealed the decision in May of 2016, which Judge Michal Laskowski rejected on Tuesday.*

The court found that the October decision was not a “flagrant violation of the law,” which the appeal argued. “The regional court of Krakow considered and verified all evidence exceptionally carefully,” Laskowski said.

In case you’re not familiar with the long-gestating case, here’s a primer: In 1977, Polanski was charged with six felony counts that included “furnishing a controlled substance to a minor” and “rape by use of drugs”—the Chinatown director had allegedly provided Quaaludes to and raped a 13-year-old model who he was shooting for the French edition of Vogue at the home of his friend, Jack Nicholson (who was in Colorado at the time). After initially pleading not guilty, Polanski accepted a plea bargain, spent 42 days at Chino State Prison for a psychiatric evaluation, then fled the U.S. for France on February 1st, 1978, the day he was due in court to receive sentencing. Because he fled the country, all six felony counts are still pending; there is no statute of limitations on Polanski’s case because he had pleaded guilty in 1978.

Though Polanski lives in France, he has historically traveled freely to Poland, where he holds a dual citizenship. Polanski grew up in Poland; he filmed his 2002 film The Pianist, for which he won Best Director at the Academy Awards in 2003, there; and he’s since returned to teach a film course and present a screening of Venus in Fur at the Gdynia Film Festival.

In June of 2014, longtime producer Robert Benmussa said Polanski hoped to film his latest film in Krakow. In January of 2015, Los Angeles prosecutors requested that Poland help them in their extradition efforts.

The decision yesterday comes after Switzerland similarly shielded the director from American authorities. In 2009, Polanski was detained for nearly a year by Swiss police after he attempted to attend the Zurich Film Festival to receive the event’s lifetime achievement award. He was released after the U.S. did not release confidential records the Swiss court requested about Polanski’s sentencing procedure. Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said in the ruling that U.S. prosecutors can no longer apply with the country to have him extradited.

The May appeal was emblematic of Poland’s recent Law and Justice Party-predominated government, the New York Times wrote yesterday morning, which has sought to realize the country’s Roman Catholic values, and curb judicial (as well as the news media’s) independence.

Ziobro, for one, has been firm that, as a movie star, Polanski would not receive preferential judicial treatment. Last May, in an interview with Polish state radio, Ziobro said, “If [Polanski] 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.”

Nevertheless, this morning’s decision “almost certainly ends the legal battle in Poland over how to deal with Mr. Polanski,” the New York Times reported.

That may comes as welcome news within the film business, where powerful players have long supported the director. In 2009, over 100 Hollywood filmmakers, actors, and producers, including Martin Scorcese, producer Harvey Weinstein, and, yes, fellow accused child sex-abuser Woody Allen, signed a petition calling for the director’s release from Switzerland. The recent decision in Poland could poise the director to film his next movie there.

But the general public in the European countries where Polanski has sought asylum is less likely to celebrate the decision. Public opinion polls in France show 65 to 75 percent of the population believes Polanski should be extradited. A 2009 poll in Poland found that less than 25 percent of the population would want to see Polanski avoid another trial—which this judgment has, in essence, accomplished.

Meanwhile, the decision means more unwanted attention for Polanski’s alleged victim, Samantha Geiser, who lives stateside. In 2008, Geiser filed to have Polanski’s charges dismissed from court because “every time this case is brought to the attention of the Court, great focus is made of me, my family, my mother and others,” she wrote in a declaration. But, in 2010, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza rejected that request, ruling that Polanski must return to the U.S. to receive sentencing—a possibility that Poland’s decision seems to rule out as it offers Polanski another country in which to seek refuge.

*Update — December 7th, 2016: This story has been updated to reflect the year of the appeal.

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