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Extradition fight looms after Polanski arrest

Video by Luke BROWN

Text by Vaila FINCH

Latest update : 2009-09-29

Government ministers, movie directors, writers and intellectuals have expressed shock and outrage following the arrest of Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski in Switzerland on three-decade-old charges of having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

Roman Polanski’s lawyers are at the start of an extradition battle after the controversial French-Polish director’s shock arrest late on Saturday in Switzerland over a 32-year-old sex case, as he arrived in Zurich to accept a lifetime achievement award.

Polanski, 76, was detained at Zurich airport after US authorities sought to have him extradited, possibly to the US, to face sentencing for having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1978.

Arrested in the US in 1977, Polanski was charged with six counts including unlawful sex with a minor – a charge known as “statutory rape” in the US – and providing drugs to the girl, Samantha Geimer. He pleaded guilty to the rape charge and spent a month and a half in prison before fleeing to Europe in January 1978 for fear of the judge in the case overriding his plea and imposing a harsher sentence.

Why the arrest now?

The Oscar-winning director’s arrest is something of a surprise. Despite the outstanding warrant, the fugitive director has travelled substantially in Europe for the last three decades, without getting arrested, albeit largely steering clear of countries whose laws allow extradition, such as Great Britain. He also owns a Swiss chalet in Gstaad.

But Los Angeles County District Attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said Sunday that the US has been pursuing the director for many years and had this time learned of Polanski’s plans to attend the Zurich Film Festival a week before, giving them sufficient time to send an arrest warrant to Switzerland in advance.

Polanski has repeatedly tried to move the case out of Los Angeles, where he claims the court system is biased against him, claims reiterated in the 2008 documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired”.

Samantha Geimer, the woman involved in the case, now a 45-year-old mother of three, appeared in the documentary and has asked for the case to be dismissed and for the page to be turned on the event.

No extradition decision will be taken by Swiss authorities until the judicial process has been finalised, says the Swiss Federal Justice Department. Polanski will have the chance to appeal both the arrest and the extradition.

In an interview with French daily Le Figaro on Monday, his lawyer Hervé Temime said: “We will be demanding that he be freed. Then we will fight his extradition.”

He added: “Humanly, it seems to me unbearable that, more than 30 years after the incident, a man of 76 who obviously poses no danger to society and whose artistic and personal reputation are clearly established, should spend a single day in prison.”

Shock in the film world

Polanski’s arrest has shocked the cinematic world, particularly in Paris, where the director – whose successes include the 1968 thriller “Rosemary’s Baby” and the Oscar-winning “The Pianist” – is based.

A number of high-profile directors and artists have agreed to put their names on a petition in support of Polanski. French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterand told a press briefing that the arrest was “horrifying”, adding that French President Nicolas Sarkozy was following the case closely.
Gallager Fenwick, FRANCE 24 correspondent in Los Angeles, said that Polanski’s plight has garnered more support in France than in the US.

In the US, “many people remain horrified by the act he committed 31 years ago…That’s a scandal which seems to have stuck with him, that he hasn’t been able to shake off in the States,” he said.

“That’s a difference with the French and France – where he is generally regarded as a genius in the art of filmmaking and where he is thought to have made a ‘mistake’”, Fenwick added.

Polanski’s life is itself film-worthy. The son of Holocaust victims, Polanski’s first wife Sharon Tate and their unborn child were murdered in 1969 by followers of the psychopathic killer Charles Manson.


Date created : 2009-09-28