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Polanski vows to fight US extradition request

Video by Nicholas RUSHWORTH , FRANCE 2


Latest update : 2009-09-29

Film director Roman Polanski, who was arrested in Switzerland on a US charge of having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977, will fight extradition to the United States, his lawyer said.

REUTERS - Film director Roman Polanski, arrested in Switzerland over a U.S. charge of having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977, will fight extradition to the United States, his lawyer said on Monday.

Polanski, 76, who has dual French and Polish citizenship, was detained on Saturday after arriving to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival.  

"He is in fighting mood and determined to defend himself," Herve Temime, Polanski's lawyer, told France Info radio, adding his client was stunned by the arrest as he was a regular visitor to Switzerland, with a chalet at the ski resort of Gstaad.

"We have begun by requesting his release, which should be done today in principle," Temime said. "There is no reason in law, or regarding the facts or in terms of the most basic justice to keep Roman Polanski a single day in prison."

A Swiss justice ministry spokesman said it was theoretically possible that Polanski could be released on bail, although that was very unlikely. "The criteria for bail are very strict," spokesman Guido Balmer said.

Polanski was initially arrested in the United States in 1977 and charged with giving drugs and alcohol to a minor, Samantha Geimer, and having unlawful sex with her. Geimer of Hawaii has since said Polanski should not face any jail time.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner spoke to his Swiss counterpart Micheline Calmy-Rey to discuss the case, a Swiss ministry spokesman said. Kouchner also told French radio on Monday he was working with Poland on the matter and had written to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

During a visit to Paris on Monday, Swiss Economy Minister Doris Leuthard said the country had no choice but to enforce an international arrest warrant against Polanski.

"The Americans strongly believe that the arrest of Mr Polanski is necessary. That's for them to decide. Switzerland is simply a state where the police functions and where we treat all people in the same way," she told a news conference.

Leuthard rejected suggestions Berne had arrested Polanski to help patch up ties strained by a high-profile U.S. tax case against Swiss bank UBS, which agreed a settlement over charges it helped wealthy Americans stash assets in secret accounts.

"The two things have absolutely no connection," she said, and when pressed on the timing of the arrest referred further questions to the Swiss Justice Department.  

Swiss authorities have said that in the past they only heard about Polanski's visits after he left the country.

Free Polanski?

The U.S. authorities have up to 60 days to make a firm extradition request, but Polanski can appeal to the Swiss Federal Penal Court of Justice.

Wearing red badges reading "Free Polanski", the Zurich Film Festival jury accused Switzerland of "philistine collusion".

"We hope today this latest order will be dropped. It is based on a three-decade-old case that is all but dead but for minor technicalities. We stand by and wait for his release and his next masterwork," said jury president Debra Winger.

Other members of the movie profession including Italian actress Monica Bellucci, French actress Fanny Ardant, president of the Cannes film festival Gilles Jacob and Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai issued a petition demanding his immediate release.

Public opinion is divided. Responses to a Reuters blog on the Polanski arrest included those who opposed it as a waste of U.S. taxpayer money and people who supported the move.

"In my opinion it is totally right to arrest Mr. Polanski," wrote Otto Meier. "What he has done is awful and needs to be atoned."

Polanski has avoided countries with extradition treaties with the United States since fleeing in 1978. He has never returned to Los Angeles, where his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by followers of Charles Manson in 1969.

The director was originally indicted on six charges, including rape. He has insisted the sex was consensual but pleaded guilty to a single count of having sex with a minor and received a sentence of time served after spending 42 days in prison undergoing psychiatric tests.

Polanski fled on the eve of his 1978 sentencing because he believed a judge might jail him for 50 years. His lawyers tried and failed earlier this year to have the case dismissed after a documentary raised new questions of judicial misconduct.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said on Sunday Polanski had received a very lenient sentence, which would never be achievable under today's laws.

"Some form of justice will finally be done," he said.

Born to Polish-Jewish parents on Aug. 18, 1933, Polanski spent his first three years in Paris before the family returned to Poland. He escaped when the Germans sealed off the Krakow Jewish ghetto but his mother later died at Auschwitz.

Polanski scored a huge hit in the United States with 1968 horror thriller "Rosemary's Baby", and another with 1974's "Chinatown", a stylish thriller starring Jack Nicholson that was nominated for 11 Academy Awards.

"Tess" (1979) also earned him an Oscar nomination, and Polanski finally won his only best director Oscar for the 2002 film "The Pianist", the story of a Jewish-Polish musician who sees his world collapse with the outbreak of World War Two.

Date created : 2009-09-28