Swiss court grants Roman Polanski bail
By Jason Rhodes
ZURICH (Reuters) - A Swiss court on Wednesday approved the release of Roman Polanski on bail of 4.5 million Swiss francs ($4.49 million) while the film director fights extradition to the United States over a 1970s child sex case.
The Swiss Federal Criminal Court ordered Polanski, 76, to surrender his identity papers and said he would remain under house arrest under electronic monitoring pending the outcome of his extradition case.
"The court considered bail in the amount of 4.5 million Swiss francs offered by Polanski, together with supporting measures, as being sufficient to avert the risk of flight," the court said in a statement.
It noted the sum was a "substantial portion" of Polanski's fortune and said the director had raised the cash from a French bank using his Paris apartment as security.
Polanski's legal counsel had argued that the potential loss of fortune would prevent the director fleeing, the court said.
The filmmaker was aware "that he would lose face to the public, which followed him with the eyes of Argus, if he did not uphold his promise," his lawyer had argued, referring to the many-eyed giant of Greek mythology.
Polanski's sister-in-law, French actress Mathilde Seigner, greeted the news with relief and said there was no danger the director would flee.
"He's a 76 year-old man, he isn't 40," she told Europe 1 radio. "Of course he wouldn't escape, it's absolutely absurd to imagine it."
She suggested Polanski might be prepared to face the U.S. justice system. "I think if he has to do it, he has to do it," she said.
Polanski would not be released immediately because the government had yet to analyze the ruling and decide whether to appeal, Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli told Reuters.
Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said an appeal was unlikely. "I think Swiss Federal Criminal Court had its good reasons. I see no reason to appeal this decision to the Federal Court," she told the Swiss national broadcaster.
MONTHS OR YEARS
Galli said that, if the Justice Ministry decided to release Polanski from prison and into house arrest at his holiday home in the Swiss resort of Gstaad, it would still take a few days.
The Oscar-winning director, who holds dual French and Polish citizenship, was arrested at the request of the United States when he arrived in Switzerland on September 26 to receive a lifetime achievement award at a film festival.
He pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 but fled the United States in 1978 before he was sentenced because he believed a judge might overrule a plea bargain and sentence him to 50 years in prison.
The Polish-born filmmaker faces up to two years in a U.S. prison if he is extradited, but if he does not agree to go voluntarily, the process could take many months or even years.
In October, the court rejected a previous bail application, saying there was a risk he might flee. The court quoted Polanski's lawyer as saying longer detention could lead to a financial loss and damages claims against him if the director was unable to finish his new movie "The Ghost," due for its premiere at the Berlin film festival in February.
His arrest led to a political storm in France after Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand and prominent artists sprang to his defense.
Polanski's films include "The Pianist" in 2002 for which he won an Academy Award, "Rosemary's Baby," "Repulsion" and "Knife in the Water."
(Additional reporting by Catherine Bosley and James Mackenzie in Paris; editing by Andrew Dobbie)