Monday, September 28, 2009

Polanski's lawyers vow to fight Switzerland detention

Roman Polanski's lawyers vowed to fight his extradition to the United States on Monday after he was arrested in Switzerland over a 1977 childsex case in Los Angeles.

Polish-French director Roman Polanski attends the opening ceremony of the 8th edition of the Marrakesh film festival, 2008. Swiss police detained Polanski and could extradite him to the United States for having sex with a 13-year-old girl three decades ago, authorities said.

The 76-year-old Polish-French director, who pleaded guilty three decades ago to having sex with a 13-year-old girl, has been held since late Saturday, when he arrived in Switzerland to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich film festival.

US authorities have been pursuing the controversial director of "Rosemary's Baby", "Chinatown" and "The Pianist" for many years. The Swiss Justice Ministry said it was now waiting for a US extradition request.

"We will be demanding that he be freed. Then we will fight the extradition," his lawyer Herve Temine told France's Le Figaro daily.

"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," he said.

Polanski fled the United States in 1978 before sentencing on a charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. He admitted the charge at the time and has never returned, even missing the Oscar award for "The Pianist" in 2003.

"His wife and his children were very shocked by the arrest," Temine told Le Figaro.

Temine said Polanski visits Switzerland often and owns a chalet in Gstaad. "To the best of my knowledge, the United States is the only country he abstains from visiting," he said.

A Swiss justice ministry spokesman said Polanski was being held under a 2005 international alert issued by the US government.

A final extradition decision could only be taken after the judicial process has been "finalised," the spokesman said, adding that appeals were possible against the arrest warrant as well as any extradition decision.

Justice Minister Eveline Wildmer-Schlumpf said her country had to act on the US request and there was no political "pressure" involved. There was "no other solution" but to arrest Polanski, she said.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, confirmed that moves to detain the director were set in motion last week.

"It wasn't a big secret that he was going to be in Zurich," Gibbons said. "They had announced he was going on the Internet."

There had been two previous attempts to nab Polanski when he planned visits to countries that have extradition agreements with the US, but each time Polanski apparently learned of the plans and did not travel, Gibbons said.

The Polish and French foreign ministers Radoslaw Sikorski and Bernard Kouchner agreed to make a joint approach to US authorities, Poland's PAP news agency reported, including for a possible pardon from President Barack Obama.

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand condemned the arrest of the film-maker, who lives in Paris, and said he had discussed the matter with President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mitterrand told a press briefing that the arrest was "absolutely horrifying" and the case was "an old story which doesn't really make any sense."

A petition signed by film-makers and actors including Costa Gavras, Wong Kar Wai, Monica Bellucci and Fanny Ardant voiced dismay at Polanski's detention.

"It seems inadmissible ... that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary film-makers, is used by the police to apprehend him," the petition said.

At the festival, posters with "Free Polanski" or "No extradition" were plastered in front of the cinema, with the planned retrospective in Polanski's honour going ahead albeit without the award ceremony.

Polanski hit the headlines in 1969 when his second wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by members of Charles Manson's cult gang in Los Angeles. Polanski was out of the country at the time.

In May, a Los Angeles judge refused Polanski's bid to dismiss the underage sex case after he failed to appear in court.

Polanski's legal team argued that the conviction should be annulled because the judge who heard the 1970s case had improperly colluded with prosecutors. The judge has since died.

The woman named as the victim in the 1977 case has joined defence lawyers in urging the dismissal of the case.


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