The arrest of Roman Polanski by the Swiss government — and I say this without any sarcasm — is becoming more and more a model case for international legal cooperation. Polanski’s recent request to be sentenced in absentia is just more proof of that. It is safe to say that the film director showed a degree of cooperation which would not have been possible before.
The credit for this latest development in what appeared to be an endless case belongs primarily to Steve Cooley. The Los Angeles District Attorney did everything just right. And he did it fast. Colley relied on international law and immediately asked the Swiss government for legal cooperation, he promptly issued a provisional arrest warrant and he filed an official request for extradition.
The Swiss authorities willingly complied — as they usually do with US requests. They will decide soon whether they extradite Polanski from his “chalet arrest” in the luxury resort of Gstaad to Los Angeles where he is wanted for having had sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
Knowing the Swiss handling of international legal issues quite well, I have no doubts that Polanski will be returned to the United States. Anything else would come as a big surprise to me. Over the last thirty years Switzerland hardly ever rejected an extradition request by the US.
I reveal in my new book The King of Oil (St. Martin’s Press) that in 1983 the Swiss Government had even been willing to proceed with the infamous fugitive oil trader Marc Rich in the exact same manner as now with Roman Polanski. The Swiss sent a legal attaché to the U.S. attorney in charge, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to explain him exactly what he had to do to get a provisional arrest of Marc Rich, who was indicted on tax evasion charges and illegal oil deals with Iran during the hostage crisis. “It all would have happened fairly quickly, and Swiss police would have taken Marc Rich into provisional custody,” the Swiss diplomat told me.
But Giuliani let this unique opportunity slip through his fingers. He didn’t rely on international law and didn’t immediately ask the Swiss government for legal cooperation, he didn’t issue a provisional arrest warrant and didn’t immediately file an official request for extradition.
Quite on the contrary: The US authorities even tried to kidnap Rich illegally in Switzerland and violated Swiss sovereignty. When they finally asked for cooperation — only then months after the indictment — the antagonized Swiss Government denied it. “The Marc Rich litigation […] has been a case study in how not to achieve successful intergovernmental cooperation,” J. Ross MacDonald, one of the leading tax experts in the United States, later criticized.
It was one of the early cases of what I call “American legal isolationism” in my book — the tendency of American prosecutors and judges to ignore other jurisdictions and to ignore international law — at the risk of alienating friends and allies. Guantanamo and “extraordinary renditions” are just the worst examples of this attitude.
Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley by contrast understood the importance of international law and legal cooperation. He treated the other country as a partner — and was highly successful in doing so. That’s why we should applaud the Polanski case.
Daniel Ammann, posted January 11, 2010.