- Associated Press - Monday, July 12, 2010

BERN, SWITZERLAND (AP) - The 32-year legal saga that began with a child rape charge against Roman Polanski headed for a decisive moment Monday as the Swiss government prepared to make an announcement about whether to extradite the fugitive director to the United States.

Nine months after arresting Polanski on a U.S. warrant, the Swiss Justice Ministry and its top official planned a news conference in the capital, Bern, at 2 p.m. (1200 GMT; 8 a.m. EDT). A statement said that Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, a Cabinet-level minister, will speak about the “matter of the Roman Polanski extradition decision.”

The government was expected to reveal its long-awaited decision on whether to hand over Polanski to authorities in Los Angeles, where he is wanted for sentencing for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

Polanski’s extradition is a complicated and diplomatically sensitive decision for the Swiss, as it deals with a three-decade-old case with accusations of wrongdoing by a Los Angeles judge, a confused sentencing procedure and the director’s own flight from justice.

There is also the 76-year-old filmmaker’s status as a cultural icon in France and Poland, where he holds dual citizenship, and his history as a Holocaust survivor whose first wife was murdered by crazed followers of cult leader Charles Manson in California.

Still, approving extradition has seemed the likeliest scenario since Polanski was arrested on Sept. 26 as he arrived in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement from a film festival. And Polanski has suffered a series of legal setbacks this year in California courts that might have helped him escape a forced return to the U.S.

Guido Balmer, a Justice ministry spokesman, declined to confirm that Swiss officials have already made up their minds. Oskar Freysinger, a Swiss parliamentarian, told The Associated Press that the government hasn’t informed lawmakers about any decision.

Lawyers representing Polanski declined to comment before the Swiss announcement.

Polanski would be allowed to appeal an extradition order to the Swiss courts, possibly setting up months of further legal wrangling. If the government rejects extradition, it must release Polanski and neither Los Angeles nor Washington would be able to appeal.

The Oscar-winning director of “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Chinatown” and “The Pianist” was accused of plying his victim with champagne and part of a Quaalude during a 1977 modeling shoot and raping her. He was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy, but pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse.

What happened after that is a subject of dispute. The defense says the now deceased judge, Laurence J. Rittenband, had agreed in meetings with attorneys to sentence Polanski to a 90-day diagnostic study and nothing more. The judge later changed his mind and summoned Polanski for further sentencing _ at which time he fled to his native France, attorneys say.

Polanski has been traveling unmolested to Switzerland since the 1970s, and bought a house a few years ago in the luxury resort of Gstaad.

He was released from prison and placed under house arrest at his Swiss chalet in December after posting $4.5 million bail and agreeing to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet around his ankle.

He has been confined to the house and its garden since.

___

Klapper reported from Geneva.

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