Poland Revives Effort to Extradite Roman Polanski
By SEWELL CHAN and JOANNA BERENDTMAY 31, 2016
LONDON — The Polish government said on Tuesday that it would revive an effort to extradite the filmmaker Roman Polanski, whom the American authorities have wanted for decades, after he fled over a 1977 conviction for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
The announcement is the latest twist in a long-running legal battle that, at least in Poland, seemed to have ended.
On Oct. 30, a judge in Krakow, Poland, ruled that turning over Mr. Polanski would be an "obviously unlawful" deprivation of liberty and that the state of California was unlikely to provide humane conditions of confinement for the filmmaker, who is 82. The next month, the Krakow prosecutor's office said it would abide by the judge's ruling.
But in a statement on Tuesday, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who is also Poland's chief prosecutor, said he had decided to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, calling the trial judge's decision a "serious breach" of the extradition agreement between the United States and Poland.
Mr. Ziobro did not cite the judge, Dariusz Mazur, by name, but he said the judge had "assessed the gathered evidence in a biased and selective way." Mr. Ziobro added that Mr. Polanski's crimes were subject to a statute of limitations in the United States.
The justice minister also said he disagreed with the judge's decision that Mr. Polanski had effectively already been punished. Mr. Polanski spent 42 days in jail before fleeing the United States in 1978, and he was held in Switzerland from 2009 to 2010, before the Swiss government declined to extradite him.
The detention in Switzerland was "a consequence of his escape abroad from American justice and avoiding criminal liability, not a punishment for a crime of which he is accused," the minister said.
Mr. Ziobro said he also found "incomprehensible" the Krakow judge's comments that Mr. Polanski would face inhumane or degrading treatment if extradited to the United States.
The practical implications for the filmmaker, who holds dual French and Polish citizenship, were not clear.
Mr. Polanski has been working on a film in Poland about Alfred Dreyfus, a French Army captain who was wrongly convicted of spying for Germany in 1894. Last week, Mr. Polanski appeared at a news conference in Katowice, Poland, with the French composer Alexandre Desplat, who has written the scores for several of Mr. Polanski's films.
Jan Olszewski, a lawyer for Mr. Polanski, told the Polish television network TVN24 that the announcement was not a surprise. "We had been expecting the minister to do it," he said.
"We are not pondering here the question of whether Polanski is guilty or not — the judge was very clear in this regard," he added. "We are discussing whether Roman Polanski can be extradited. These are two different things."
Several institutional and political changes have occurred in Poland since the Krakow court's ruling. In November, a government led by the right-wing Law and Justice Party, which swept parliamentary elections, took office.
The party has moved Poland to the right and taken steps to curb judicial and news media independence, alarming European Union leaders, who say the shift might violate the democratic norms of the 28-nation bloc.
The party is known for its law-and-order approach, and for its appeal to Roman Catholic and nationalist voters.
Mr. Ziobro, who became justice minister in November, has consolidated power, and regional prosecutors like the one in Krakow now report to him.
In his statement, Mr. Ziobro suggested that his decision was not politically motivated. He noted that his predecessor as chief prosecutor, Andrzej Seremet, requested a review of the Krakow court's ruling in December, with an eye toward a possible appeal.
Mr. Polanski was arrested in 1977 on charges that included the rape of a teenage girl at the home of the actor Jack Nicholson.
He fled the United States the next year on the eve of sentencing, after learning that the trial judge in California, Laurence J. Rittenband, had decided to revise a plan to limit his sentence to a 90-day psychiatric evaluation, a portion of which Mr. Polanski had already served in a state prison.
In 2009, a California appeals court panel suggested that Mr. Polanski could be sentenced in absentia, opening the way to a possible resolution of the standoff.
Under that proposal, Mr. Polanski would be sentenced to time served, but the plan was rejected by the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
After the unsuccessful effort to have Mr. Polanski extradited from Switzerland, where he was arrested while at a film festival, the United States Department of Justice asked Poland in December 2014 for help in extraditing Mr. Polanski.
Mr. Ziobro, in his statement on Tuesday, took pains to recite the serious crimes for which Mr. Polanski was convicted, including sex with the 13-year-old, who was under the influence of alcohol and methaqualone, a sedative.
In a 2013 memoir, the victim, Samantha Geimer, said she had forgiven Mr. Polanski and moved on with her life.
During the court proceedings in Krakow, two of Mr. Polanski's defense lawyers, Mr. Olszewski and Jerzy Stachowicz, repeatedly cited the 2008 documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," which suggested prosecutorial overreach and judicial misconduct by officials in the United States.
They argued that extraditing Mr. Polanski would violate the European Convention on Human Right and his right to a fair trial.