LOS ANGELES (AP) - Federal officials denied Thursday keeping Los Angeles prosecutors in the dark about refusing a Swiss request for sealed transcripts in the Roman Polanski case, a move that was pivotal to the Swiss refusal to extradite the filmmaker to the United States.
The Swiss said that they wanted to know whether Polanski, who was being held in a 33-year-old sex case, had already served his sentence. They asked for transcripts of testimony by the film director’s original prosecutor, Roger Gunson.
The Justice Department said the transcripts couldn’t be provided, according to a letter from Swiss officials to the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland. The letter was dated Monday and obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday night.
The Swiss officials said that the denial of access to the information was the key factor in the refusal to extradite Polanski.
District attorney’s spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said Wednesday that Los Angeles prosecutors were never notified of the request. But the Justice Department said Thursday the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office was fully informed and approved the denial.
Gibbons reiterated the district attorney’s position Thursday.
“We were not specifically notified of the request,” Gibbons said.
The Swiss had said from the beginning that their extradition laws allowed Polanski to be sent to the United States only if he was going to be required to serve at least six months in prison. They sought the testimony of original prosecutor Roger Gunson to clarify the matter.
The letter added, “Under these circumstances it cannot be excluded with certainty that Roman Polanski, who was imprisoned in the Chino State Prison for 42 days, has not already served the sentence imposed on him.”
It was the first indication that the Swiss were potentially accepting arguments raised by Polanski’s lawyers who claimed he was a victim of misconduct by now deceased Superior Court Judge Laurence Rittenband. The letter mentions Rittenband by name and said authorities wanted to know whether Rittenband had promised Polanski that his time undergoing a diagnostic study in prison would be his entire sentence. He had pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl.
The request was transmitted to the Justice Department, they said, on May 5, 2010.
Adding to the confusion, Swiss Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli had said on April 30 that his department wasn’t interested in the testimony. “Such documents are irrelevant for the extradition proceedings,” he had told the AP.
But the ministry said it then asked U.S. authorities for the transcript only days later because it was believed to contain evidence of paramount importance to the case.
Asked after Polanksi’s release about what seemed to be an about-turn, the ministry declined to explain itself.
“What’s clear is that the Justice Ministry asked for this transcript, which shows that it’s considered to be relevant,” said Guido Balmer, another ministry spokesman.
The Polanski defense team had already independently filed its own motion seeking release of the transcript of the three days of secret testimony and argued it should be transmitted to the Swiss government.
But on May 6, 2010, the day after the new request, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office filed papers opposing any such unsealing. They said the testimony was a “conditional examination” conducted only in case a witness was unavailable later. And they said the Swiss had not requested the transcripts.
In a hearing on May 10, Deputy District attorney David Walgren told a judge that the Swiss had not asked for the transcripts and Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza said the Swiss had indicated they wanted no further information. He denied the defense request.
Polanski’s defense lawyer, Douglas Dalton, said the revelation “supports the need for a formal inquiry into this issue.”
The letter ended on a conciliatory note with the Swiss Federal Justice and Police Department officials noting that Polanski, who had been held under house arrest for months at his Swiss home, was a property owner in Gstaad and thus has “a protected value of trust” with the Swiss.
“He is welcome as a buyer and vacation guest in Switzerland and there are no obstacles against necessary traveling in and out for personal use of the property,” the letter said.
Associated Press writer Bradley S. Klapper in Geneva contributed to this report.
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