The film-maker Roman Polanski has won the latest round of his battle to avoid extradition to the United States over a 1977 child sex abuse conviction, after a Polish court rejected a US application.
Judge Dariusz Mazur, at Kraków district court, said he accepted claims from Polanski’s lawyers that the application was in breach of the European convention on human rights because Polanski has admitted guilt and served a prison sentence for the offence. The case is open to appeal.
Polanski was not in court to hear the decision, but later said he was very happy and could “breathe now with relief”. Asked at a press conference whether he thought his battle to avoid extradition was over, he said: “I don’t know. I am tired. It takes so much time. I have lost so much time. At my age, a year is a long time.”
He said he had no hard feelings against the United States. “This is issue is just about one court: Court 100 in Los Angeles. You can’t blame a whole country for one court.”
His lawyer Jan Olszewski told the Guardian that he expected the US to appeal: “They have seven days to do so. I have a feeling they will, but we feel confident. It has been a lot of hard work but we are confident.”
Polanski pleaded guilty in 1977 to having unlawful sex with Samantha Galley, 13, during a photoshoot in Hollywood at which champagne and drugs were taken. He was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by the use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy.
But as a result of a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to only one count of unlawful sex with a minor. He served 42 days in jail. Believing the sentencing judge might overrule the deal and impose a long jail term, he fled to France in February 1978.
After Friday’s decision, Olszewski said: “This is a European victory. The Americans breached seven or eight paragraphs of the European convention which, among other things, protects Europeans from being prosecuted twice for the same crime.”
He said that while the US had tried to get Switzerland to deport Polanski in 2009, and failed, the ruling in Poland marked the first time the extradition application had been considered by a court where EU law could be cited.
Mazur said the French-Polish film-maker had spent a year under house arrest in the Alps while waiting for the Swiss decision in 2009. “This time counts as an added prison sentence,” he said.
He criticised the US authorities’ persistence in the case, saying: “Where is the sound reasoning? Sound reasoning does not find an answer.”
The Kraków rulinghas relieved the incoming Polish government of a difficult political decision. In campaigning before the 25 October election, officials of the national-conservative Law & Justice party pledged that, if the Krakow court granted the US request, its incoming justice minister would rubberstamp the agreement as a mark of its disapproval of sex with minors. But Polanski is one of Poland’s most revered living people and his extradition would be unpopular.
Polanski, who was 43 when he had sex with the 13-year-old, has now fought a return visit to Los Angeles county’s district attorney’s office for nearly half of his life. While evading US justice officials he has made several award-winning films, including The Pianist, which won an Oscar, and has lived mainly in France, which does not extradite its citizens to the US. His most recent film, Venus in Fur, was released in 2013.
The director, whose breakthrough film was Rosemary’s Baby, returned to Poland last year for the opening of a Jewish museum in Warsaw and to support other projects aimed at raising the profile of Jewish culture in Poland. He has been filming a new drama about the Dreyfus affair, based on a novel by Robert Harris.
Born in France of Polish-Jewish parents in 1933, Polanski was taken to Poland in 1936 and is a survivor of the Kraków ghetto. His mother died at Auschwitz.
Olszewski told the court the US application had many legal flaws, adding: “This is not about justice or the interest of the victim.”
Indeed, since the incident took place in a bedroom at Jack Nicholson’s house on 10 March 1977 – while the actor was away skiing – details of the case have become relegated to backstory. As time has passed, the narrative has become dominated by legal procedure: translations, appendices and missing documents. The Swiss and now Polish courts have set out to show up Californian justice as implacable, disingenuous and a little inept.
The victim, who received an out-of-court settlement after suing Polanski in 1988, appears to agree. Now aged 52, Samantha Geimer, as she is known, suggested in a series of recent Facebook postings that US officials had been “using a teenage rape victim” and pursuing the case “to cover up their own misconduct”.
Two years ago, in her written account of what happened, The Girl: A Life Lived in the Shadow of Roman Polanski, Geimer said she had forgiven Polanski “not for him, but for me and my husband”. Geimer, who has three children, wrote: “My family never asked that Polanski be punished. We just wanted the legal machine to stop.”
Mai Fernandez, the executive director of the US National Center for Victims of Crime, said that in principle she thought Polanski should be extradited, but that the wishes of the victim should be taken into account in each case.
“In general, the extradition is warranted if the court finds he should be brought to the United States to face justice,” Fernandez said. “Sexual assault on a minor is an extremely serious crime and no matter who you are, you do not get a pass when you have abused a child. The US is doing the right thing in trying to hold him accountable.”
However, she said, the prosecutors and courts must listen to any wishes of the victim. “A prosecutor’s job is always to bring a perpetrator to justice but you need to take the wants of the victim into account. If she is saying she has had enough, maybe the prosecution of this case is not the best way to bring justice. The views of the victim are often lost in the process, but should be paramount,” she said.
But Fernandez blamed Polanski himself for prolonging the case for so many years because he made himself a fugitive, obliging the US to pursue him.
“It’s Polanski’s fault that this continues because he refused to face justice fully when the charges were originally brought. I’m sure she [Geimer] would have wanted this over and done with long ago. No one wants to have to talk about this over and over and be revictimised; it’s horrible.”
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