KRAKOW, Poland (Reuters) - Oscar-winning film-maker Roman Polanski said on Friday he was grateful and relieved after a Polish court rejected a U.S. request for his extradition over a 1977 child sex conviction.
The case of the Polish-born Polanski, now 82, remains an international cause celebre nearly four decades after the crime, with some demanding harsh punishment and others urging that extradition efforts be dropped.
A judge in a Polish court in the southern city of Krakow ruled against the extradition, saying the U.S. judiciary had violated Polanski's rights in the past and that he would be subject to infringements if handed over now.
"The extradition is inadmissible", judge Dariusz Mazur said.
"The case is over, at least in Poland, I hope. I can sigh with relief. It's difficult to describe how much time, energy and effort this costs, how much suffering it brought on my family," Polanski told a news conference in Krakow.
"It's simple. I pleaded guilty, I went to prison. I served my punishment. It's over," he said.
Polanski pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl during a photo shoot in Los Angeles. He served 42 days in jail after a plea bargain but later fled the United States fearing a lengthy jail time if the deal was overruled.
In 2009, he was arrested in Zurich on a U.S. warrant and placed under house arrest. He was freed in 2010 after Swiss authorities decided not to extradite him.
The United States requested Polanski's extradition from Poland after he made a high-profile appearance in Warsaw in 2014.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has long insisted that Polanski remains a fugitive and subject to immediate arrest in the United States because he fled the country before sentencing. It says his case cannot be resolved until he returns to California to face justice.
"Our position on this matter remains the same," Shiara Davila-Morales, a spokeswoman for the D.A., said on Friday, declining to comment further.
Since fleeing the United States, Polanski won an Oscar for best director for The Pianist, a film based on a memoir of a famous Polish Jewish pianist and composer who survived the Holocaust. Polanski, who holds both French and Polish citizenship, lives in Paris but also has an apartment in Krakow and regularly visits Poland.
Mazur said it was clear Polanski was guilty and deserved to be punished. But he said Polanski's right to a fair trial and right of defence had been "grossly and repeatedly violated" over the years by several U.S. judges and prosecutors, including when the first bargain deal was annulled.
The decision is not legally binding and prosecutors can appeal.
The judge said extraditing Polanski would lead to him being held in harsh conditions for weeks or months in the United States while his case was being processed and would violate his human rights, potentially putting Poland at odds with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
He said the defendant's rights had often been curtailed, judges had failed to live up to standards of judicial independence and Polanski had already been sufficiently punished.
Polanski's U.S.-based lawyer Chad Hummel on Friday declined to comment on the Polish decision. The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment.
Samantha Geimer, the victim in the case, has long made clear she believes Polanski's long exile has been punishment enough.
Geimer, now in her 50s and living in Hawaii, said in a series of posts on her Facebook page ahead of the Polish ruling that Los Angeles prosecutors should abandon their efforts.
"The message is they will use a teenage rape victim until their dying breath to get some PR, and justice is NOT something they seek for victims," she wrote.
Polanski's defence lawyers said the film director's fame had made him a target for some U.S. judges and prosecutors who wanted to build a reputation out of the case.
"Roman Polanski's fame has been a burden," said defence lawyer Jan Olszewski. "There will always be someone who wants to promote themselves on a case attracting wide attention."
Olszewski expressed disquiet at comments by some members of Poland's conservative Law and Justice party, which has just won an outright majority in parliament, suggesting that Polanski was getting undue lenient treatment.
Polanski appeared, too, to refer to this, saying: "If any decision were to be based on facts, there are so many elements in the case that are in my favour, that I see no risk. But, should it be a political decision - I should be worried."
Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant, Writing by Wiktor Szary and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Gareth Jones