Last week Switzerland had rejected the extradition request from the US for film director, Roman Polanski, who was wanted for crimes committed against a 13-year old in 1977. This was by no means the biggest story of the week.
It paled significantly against BP’s successful effort to stem an oil well that was pumping crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico and Sudan’s President Omar Bashir’s new indictment on genocide by the International Criminal Court.
Its still a fascinating tale on judicial drama, celebrity and dark acts against a minor.
Here in Rwanda, there is a campaign against gender based violence, which focuses mainly on reducing and reporting incidents of domestic violence and rape although I always did think the campaign should have been broadened to include defilement or what the Americans like to call ‘statutory rape’.
Its an interesting case to be sure. Roman Polanski is by all accounts a brilliant film director, some readers may recall his more contemporary works, The Ninth Gate , featuring Johnny Depp, and The Pianist , a film starring Adrien Brody that told the story of survival of a Polish Jew piano maestro, Wladyslaw Szpilman, during the second world war. The older filmgoers may even have watched Rosemary’s Baby .
Mr. Polanski was born in Poland and, like his main character in The Pianist, survived the Krakow ghetto during the Second World War, losing his mother to the gas chambers of a nazi concentration camp. In 1969, his wife was murdered by cult members.
Some commentators have stated that this was the reason for his penchant for particularly dark movies even though Polanski had produced some chilling films prior to that, including Rosemary’s Baby.
In 1977, Polanski asked the mother of Samantha Gailey (now Samantha Geimer) if he could use her 13-year old daughter for a Vogue magazine photo-shoot. It was the events following the photoshoot that led to the Director’s arrest in Zurich on 26th September last year.
He was charged with rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under fourteen, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor.
He later entered into a plea bargain where he pleaded guilty to engaging in ‘unlawful sexual intercourse’. Polanski had expected that he would only receive probation upon sentencing but upon learning that jail time was a possibility he fled the US and spent the intervening 30 years staying away from countries that may extradite him.
On 12th of July this year, the Ministry of Justice of Switzerland rejected the US extradition request citing that certain documents pertaining to Polanski’s plea bargain were not furnished by American authorities and there was a possibility that Polanski’s 42-day psychiatric evaluation, ordered by the Court upon his plea bargain, may have constituted his sentence.
Additionally, Samantha Geimer had filed to have his case dismissed citing negative publicity to herself and her family. She tactfully omitted any mention of Polanski’s out of court settlement to a civil suit she had opened against him.
Some will say that this was a victory for due process and the protection of a defendant’s rights while others will call it a defeat for justice.
The arguments on both sides will likely continue for some time and Roman Polanski will probably spend the rest of his life pursued by controversy but no one will ever dispute that this drama is probably as good as any of the movies ever made by the Dark Prince of film.
Oscar Kabbatende is a lawyer