GSTAAD, Switzerland (Reuters) - Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski was released on bail into house arrest at his Swiss chalet on Friday while he fights extradition to the U.S. over a 1977 charge of having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
After more than two months in a Swiss jail, a Reuters journalist saw Polanski in one of two cars which swept past some 200 reporters and into the garage of the film director’s luxury home in the upmarket ski resort of Gstaad.
“Roman Polanski was today released from custody pending extradition and transferred to Gstaad, where he is under house arrest at his chalet,” the Swiss government said in a statement.
“Polanski has undertaken not to leave his house and property at any time,” it said. A police cordon kept media away from the snow-covered three-storey house.
Polanski was released from prison after posting $4.5 million bail, agreeing to wear an electronic monitoring tag and surrendering his identity and travel documents.
The small Alpine town has been popular with celebrities for decades and was favored by actress Audrey Hepburn, jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald and wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
The Swiss Justice Department is expected to decide on Polanski’s possible extradition within weeks but he could appeal, potentially dragging out the dispute for months.
“It must be special treatment — if he were a normal man they would keep him in jail,” said local Gstaad resident Anne-Marie Fankhauser.
House arrest means Polanski, 76, can spend time with his wife — French singer and actress Emmanuelle Seigner — and two children.
The “Chinatown” and “The Pianist” director, who holds dual French and Polish citizenship, was arrested at the request of the United States when he flew into Switzerland on September 26 to receive a lifetime achievement prize at a film festival.
The director, who won an Oscar for “The Pianist” (2002), was originally indicted in Los Angeles on six charges, including rape, for having sex after plying a 13 year old girl with champagne and drugs.
He pleaded guilty to unlawful sex but fled the United States on the eve of his 1978 sentencing because he believed a judge might overrule a plea bargain and put him in jail for 50 years. He has never returned to U.S. soil.
U.S. authorities have said he would now face a jail sentence of two years.
“It’s too much hoopla,” said 27-year-old Gstaad resident Andrea, taking bags of Christmas decorations out of a car. “It was 30 years ago and they should have done something long ago.”
Writing by Jason Rhodes and Sam Cage; editing by Jon Boyle