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Lawyer: Polanski will fight extradition to the U.S.

- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009

UPDATED:

ZURICH (AP) -- Imprisoned director Roman Polanski is in a "fighting mood" and will battle U.S. attempts to have him extradited from Switzerland to face justice in California for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl, his lawyer said Monday.

An international tug-of-war over the 76-year-old director escalated Monday as France and Poland urged Switzerland to free him on bail and pressed U.S. officials all the way up to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the case.

Polanski was in his third day of detention after Swiss police arrested him Saturday on an international warrant as he arrived in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award from a film festival.

Polanski has told Swiss officials that he will contest a U.S. request that he be transferred to the United States, attorney Herve Temime said in an e-mail. Temime said Polanski's legal team would try to prove that the U.S. request was illegal and that the Oscar-winning director should be released from Swiss custody.

"Taking into account the extraordinary conditions of his arrest, his Swiss lawyer will seek his freedom without delay," Temime said.

He also told France-Info radio that he was able to speak with Polanski from his Zurich cell.

"He was shocked, dumbfounded, but he is in a fighting mood and he is very determined to defend himself," Temime said.

A complicated legal process awaited all sides. While France expressed hope that Polanski would be freed shortly, Swiss officials said there would be no rash decision.

The Swiss Justice Ministry on Monday did not rule out the possibility that Polanski, director of such classic films as "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby," could be released on bail under very strict conditions that he doesn't flee Switzerland.

Justice spokesman Guido Balmer said such an arrangement is "not entirely excluded" under Swiss law and that Polanski could file a motion on bail. But he said Switzerland's top criminal court would undertake a thorough examination of evidence before deciding on any request, and that would take time.

"This is a legal story," Balmer told The AP. "There is no room for political pressure."

Authorities in Los Angeles consider Polanski a "convicted felon and fugitive."

Polanski at the time had pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse and was sent to prison for 42 days of evaluation. Lawyers agreed that would be his full sentence, but the judge tried to renege on the plea bargain.

On the day of his sentencing in 1978, aware the judge would sentence him to more prison time and require his voluntary deportation, Polanski fled to France.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he hoped Polanski could be quickly freed by the Swiss, calling the apprehension a "bit sinister." He also told France-Inter radio that he and his Polish counterpart Radek Sikorski wrote to Clinton on the case.

Polanski was "thrown to the lions," said French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand. "In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face."

Polanski, who has dual French-Polish citizenship, has hired Swiss attorney Lorenz Erni to represent him in Switzerland, according to the law firm Eschmann & Erni.

Polanski seems most likely to spend several months in detention, unless he agrees to forgo any challenge to his extradition to the United States. Under a 1990 accord between Switzerland and the U.S., Washington has 60 days to submit a formal request for his transfer. Rulings in a similar dispute four years ago over Russia's former atomic energy minister Yevgeny Adamov confirmed that subjects should be held in custody throughout the procedure.

That means the procedure for extradition could also be lengthy for the United States. Its request for Polanski's transfer must first be examined by the Swiss Justice Ministry, and once approved it can be appealed at a number of courts.

The 2005 saga over Adamov's extradition, eventually to Russia and not the U.S., took seven months. The case also sets a possible precedent for France, which may wish to try one of its own nationals in a domestic court rather than in Los Angeles.

For now, Polanski is living in a Zurich cell where he receives three meals a day and is allowed outside for one hour of daily exercise.

Rebecca de Silva, spokeswoman for the Zurich prison authorities, refused to say exactly where Polanski was being held for security reasons, but said cells are usually single or double occupancy and that each room contains a table, storage compartment, sink, toilet and television.

Family and friends can only see Polanski for an hour each week, but that does not include official visits from lawyers and consular diplomats, de Silva said.

The Justice Ministry insisted Sunday that politics played no role in its arrest order on Polanski, who lives in France but has spent much time at a chalet in the luxury Swiss resort of Gstaad. That has led to widespread speculation among his friends and even politicians in Switzerland that the neutral country was coerced by Washington into action.

Temime, Polanski's lawyer, told the daily Le Parisien that the filmmaker stayed in Gstaad for months this year.

"He came here, but I have no idea how frequently," said Toni von Gruenigen, deputy mayor of Saarnen, where the famously discreet community is located. "He kept a low profile."

The U.S. has had an outstanding warrant on Polanski since 1978, but the Swiss said American authorities have sought the arrest of the director around the world only since 2005.

Polanski has asked a U.S. appeals court in California to overturn a judges' refusal to throw out his case. He claims misconduct by the now-deceased judge who had arranged a plea bargain and then reneged on it.

His victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago identified herself publicly, has joined in Polanski's bid for dismissal, saying she wants the case to be over. She sued Polanski and reached an undisclosed settlement.

Earlier this year, Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza in Los Angeles dismissed Polanski's bid to throw out the case because the director failed to appear in court to press his request, but said there was "substantial misconduct" in the handling of the original case.

In his ruling, Espinoza said he reviewed not only legal documents, but also watched the HBO documentary, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," which suggests there was behind-the-scenes manipulations by a now-retired prosecutor not assigned to the case.

Polanski has lived for the past three decades in France, where his career has continued to flourish; he received a directing Oscar in absentia for the 2002 movie "The Pianist." He is married to French actress Emanuelle Seigner, with whom he has two children.

He has avoided traveling to countries likely to extradite him. Balmer said the difference during Polanski's visit this time to Zurich was that authorities knew when and where he would arrive. The Alpine country does not perform regular passport checks anymore on arrivals from 24 other European countries.

Balmer also rejected any hint that the arrest was somehow aimed at winning favor with the U.S. after a series of bilateral spats over tax evasion and wealthy Americans stashing money at Swiss banking giant UBS AG.

"There was a valid arrest request and we knew when he was coming. That's why he was taken into custody," Balmer told The AP. "There is no link with any other issues."

The arrest prompted angry criticism Monday from fellow filmmakers and actors across Europe.

"It seems inadmissible ... that an international cultural evening, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by police to apprehend him," says a petition circulating in France and signed by artists including Costa Gavras, Stefen Frears and Monica Bellucci.

Oscar-winning director Andrzej Wajda and other Polish filmmakers also appealed for the immediate release of Polanski, a native of France who was taken to Poland by his parents, escaped Krakow's Jewish ghetto as a child during World War II and lived off the charity of strangers. His mother died at the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp.

Polanski has already "atoned for the sins of his young years," Jacek Bromski, head of the Polish Filmmakers Association, told The AP. "He has paid for it by not being able to enter the U.S. and in his professional life he has paid for it by not being able to make films in Hollywood."

Klapper reported from Geneva. AP writers Frank Jordans in Geneva, Elaine Ganley in Paris and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.