Berne: Switzerland said on Monday it would not send Roman Polanski back to the United States to face sentencing for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977, freeing the Oscar-winning director from 10 months arrest.
Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said she had decided against extradition because of potential technical faults in the U.S. extradition requests but also because Polanski had for years come to Switzerland in good faith.
"He is a free man since 11.30 today," she told a news conference in Switzerland's capital Berne.
"He can go to France or to Poland, anywhere where he will not be arrested," she said.
Polanski, 76, who won a best director Oscar for his moving portrait of life in the Warsaw Jewish ghetto of World War II in The Pianist, was still at his mountain chalet in the chic ski town of Gstaad, where he had been held under house arrest.
The electronic foot bracelet that the Swiss have used to control his movements had been switched off, the minister said.
"This is not about qualifying a crime. That is not our duty. This is not about deciding on guilt or innocence," she said. The Swiss minister said while the United States could appeal this decision internationally, she did not expect that to happen.
The announcement follows months of uncertainty over whether Polanski would have to return to the United States after having been arrested in September 2009 upon arrival in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award at a film festival.
"It's an enormous satisfaction and a great relief after the pain suffered by Roman Polanski and his family," said Polanski's lawyer Herve Temime.
His arrest prompted an outcry in the global film industry and in some political circles in France, where he has been a long-time resident, with directors from Woody Allen to Martin Scorsese and Jean-Luc Godard expressing support for Polanski.
After a short jail stint, Polanski, who holds dual French and Polish citizenship, was put under house arrest in December 2009 at Gstaad while Swiss officials awaited the outcome of U.S. legal proceedings.
Polanski pleaded guilty to having sex with the girl but fled the United States on the eve of his 1978 sentencing because he believed a judge might overrule his plea and put him in jail for 50 years.
Polanski has lived in Europe ever since, facing the prospect of arrest the moment he set foot back on U.S. soil while continuing his film career outside Hollywood.
Born to Polish-Jewish parents in 1933, his life was marked by a narrow escape from the Krakow ghetto and by the murder of his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, by followers of cult leader Charles Manson in 1969.
Polanski is also known for classics such as Chinatown, which earned 11 Oscar nominations, and Rosemary's Baby.
He completed his latest film The Ghost, based on a Robert Harris' best-seller, while under arrest in Switzerland.