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Director Polanski begins ‘chalet arrest’

International Press and Spectators Keystone

Blue skies, snow-capped mountains and hoards of journalists welcomed film director Roman Polanski to his luxury Gstaad home on his first day of house arrest.

The 76-year-old traded the confines of jail near Zurich on Friday for house arrest at his CHF1.6-million ($1.6 million) chalet in the chic Alpine resort after posting bail of CHF4.5 million.

Polanski will remain there until officials decide whether to extradite him to the United States, where he is wanted for sentencing in a case of unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

Nearly an hour past noon, two police cars swept up the icy private road to the Milky Way, Polanski’s three-storey stucco and wood home on the edge of Gstaad. The cars then disappeared into a garage, which has direct access to the chalet.

“He looked tired and much thinner than normal,” said photographer William Abenhaim, one of the 100 journalists and cameramen lying in wait.

A statement from the Federal Justice Office later confirmed his release: “Roman Polanski was today released from custody pending extradition and transferred to Gstaad, where he is under house arrest at his chalet. Polanski has undertaken not to leave his house and property at any time.”


Officials said the measures ordered by the Federal Criminal Court were in place before Polanksi was released from custody. Bail had been transferred and identification and travel documents had been deposited with the Zurich cantonal police.

His Gstaad chalet has also been fitted with an electronic monitoring system that will trigger an alarm if Polanski leaves the confines of his property or removes a cigarette-packet-sized tagging bracelet.

Polanski was wearing the monitor around his ankle on Friday, said justice ministry spokesman Folco Galli.

“As soon as he arrived, the electronic device was activated,” he told the Associated Press.

Swiss officials say they still think there is a high risk Polanski will try to flee, even though he will be wearing the bracelet.

Despite the restrictions, the director will be able to go outside to pick up his mail or entertain guests in his garden with stunning views of the Alps. He will also be able to make calls, send emails and work on his films. Phone conversations will not be monitored.

The resort of 3,000 full-time residents also has a reputation of catering to the wishes of the rich and famous. It is the winter home of French singer Johnny Halliday and Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and has been popular with celebrities for decades such as Audrey Hepburn, jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald and wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

“It must be special treatment – if he were a normal man they would keep him in jail,” local resident Anne-Marie Fankhauser, a retired government employee in Gstaad, told Reuters.

International arrest warrant

Polanski was picked up under an international arrest warrant on September 26 as he arrived in Zurich to be honoured at the city’s film festival.

He had been held at Winterthur prison near Zurich for the past 70 days until his successful appeal for release pending extradition.

Polanski was convicted by a US court of having unlawful sex with an underage girl in 1977 but fled the country before sentencing. He has since lived in France as a French citizen. France does not extradite its citizens to the US.

The Swiss justice ministry is expected to decide on Polanski’s possible extradition within weeks but he could appeal, potentially dragging out the dispute for months. He faces up to two years in a US prison if he is extradited.

A court in California is to discuss the Polanski case on December 10.

Media attention

Polanski’s family had reportedly been waiting eagerly at the chalet, peeking out the windows to look for him as Swiss authorities worked out the last-minute details of his transfer.

As journalists hung around, police in gray-and-blue jackets and private security guarded his property. Red-and-white striped police security tape and a wooden fence marked out an area around the house that was closed to strangers.

A security guard later told reporters that “there was no point in waiting” as “Mr Polanski and his wife would not be coming out either today or in the near future”.

But this did not seem to deter some of the hardened hacks and paparazzi.

Abenhaim, who had been in Gstaad for the past ten days, said he planned to stay a few more days to try and get a shot of Polanski as he opened his shutters or walked in his garden.

“I’ve never seen so many journalists,” said Gstaad’s tourist director, Roger Seifritz.

He said that he was concerned about the resort’s image, especially as residents and guests “don’t like media attention” and the local attitude to the Polanski affair had shifted from “coolness” to “annoyance”.

Simon Bradley in Gstaad,

While under house arrest, Polanski will still be allowed outside as long as he does not leave the property. His phone calls and emails will not be monitored and he will be allowed to have guests come and go as they please. As he may not leave the property at any time, Polanski must arrange for supplies to be brought to him. If Polanski feels threatened, he can call the police or hire a private security firm.

The Swiss government decided on December 4 to allow house arrests with the help of electronic monitoring devices in seven cantons until 2015. The alternative to jail time has been the subject of much debate in light of the Polanski affair.

Since 1999, the cantons of Basel-City, Basel-Country, Bern, Vaud, Geneva and Ticino, followed by canton Solothurn in 2003, have been trying ways of monitoring detainees out of prison with electronic ankle bracelets. Polanski is the first person to be awaiting extradition to be fitted with the monitoring devices.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR