Roman Polanski released to Swiss chalet, greeted by family, media swarm

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Roman Polanski was out of prison and at his Swiss chalet this morning after posting $4.5 million bail, the latest twist in the effort by L.A. prosecutors to extradite the director to the U.S. for sentencing in a three-decade old child sex case.

“Roman Polanski was today released from custody pending extradition and transferred to Gstaad, where he is under house arrest at his chalet. Polanski has undertaken not to leave his house and property at any time,” the Swiss government said in a statement.

Polanski was greeted at his chalet in the resort town of Gstaad by his children, Elvis, 9, and Morgane, 16, and his wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner. There were also scores of reporters and camera crews outside to capture the moment.

Under terms of the bail, Polanski, 76, will be restricted to his chalet. The village of 2,500 has long been known as a celebrity hangout, having been home to Elizabeth Taylor, Roger Moore and David Niven, among others.

The bail is expected to only heighten the debate about the Polanski case. Polanski was arrested two months ago as he arrived in Zurich for a film festival based on a warrant issued by the L.A. District Attorney’s office. Polanski pleaded guilty in 1978 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl at the home of Jack Nicholson. But he fled to Europe just before sentencing, claiming the judge in the case was biased against him.

His supporters say Polanski should not be extradicted and that he’s paid his debate to society. Critics, however, say Polanski should be returned to L.A. and be sentenced to prison time.

The Swiss courts must still decide whether to send Polanski back. The director’s attorneys have vowed to fight extradition, and a decision is months away.

Some legal experts said they were surprised Polanski got bail given his flight from L.A. The Swiss Justice Ministry had repeatedly denied him bail, saying he was a flight risk.

Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and Loyola law professor, told The Times the bail could slow the extradition process because Polanski would have less incentive to resolve the issue if he is out of jail. “A Swiss chalet is a lot nicer than a jail here,” she said.

Polanski will be under house arrest at his chalet, his movements tracked by electronic monitoring equipment.

Polanski will be allowed to make unlimited phone calls and have full access to e-mail and the Internet. Although he cannot leave his house, he can invite friends over and throw parties at the tony chalet.

Swiss officials have said Polanski would face up to two years in prison if sent back to L.A. But prosecutors have not commented on that issue.

A Times analysis of Los Angeles County court records found that statutory rape convictions similar to Polanski’s typically result in sentences at least four times longer today than the 90-day punishment the judge handed down in his 1978 case.

The Times analyzed sentencing data to determine how L.A. County courts today handle cases in which men admit to statutory rape -- also known as unlawful sex with a minor -- in exchange for the dismissal of more serious rape charges, as Polanski did. The findings show that those defendants get more time than Polanski has served -- even factoring in his 70-day stint in Swiss detention -- but less than his critics may expect.

--Shelby Grad