- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009

ZURICH | Movie director Roman Polanski was arrested by Swiss police as he flew in for the Zurich Film Festival and faces extradition to the United States for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977, authorities said Sunday.

Mr. Polanski was scheduled to receive an honorary award at the festival when he was apprehended Saturday at the airport, the Swiss Justice Ministry said in a statement. It said U.S. authorities have sought the arrest of the 76-year-old director around the world since 2005.

“There was a valid arrest request, and we knew when he was coming,” ministry spokesman Guido Balmer told the Associated Press. “That’s why he was taken into custody.”

Mr. Polanski, the director of such classic films as “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” fled the United States for France in 1978, a year after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with the girl.

Mr. Polanski has asked a U.S. appeals court in California to overturn a judge’s 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 Mr. Polanski’s bid for dismissal, saying she wants the case to be over. She sued Mr. Polanski and reached an undisclosed settlement.

Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the director would remain in Zurich until the conclusion of the extradition proceedings. The United States now has 60 days to file a formal request for Mr. Polanski’s transfer, she said.

A U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman in Washington declined to comment on the case Sunday.

Mr. Polanski’s French lawyer, Georges Kiejman, told France-Inter radio that it was “too early to know” whether Mr. Polanski would be extradited.

“The proceedings must take their course,” he said Sunday. “For now, we are trying to have the arrest warrant lifted in Zurich.”

Mr. Kiejman later told the AP that France does not extradite its citizens and that U.S. authorities had never asked France to prosecute Mr. Polanski at home.

Mr. Balmer, the Swiss spokesman, said Mr. Polanski’s arrest was not influenced by politics, even though the director has often traveled or stayed in the country. Novelist Robert Harris, whose book “Ghost” is being made into a movie by the director, told Britain’s Press Association that Mr. Polanski owns a house in Gstaad, which he has visited regularly while filming in Germany, and that there was never any warning he faced arrest.

In the Swiss capital of Bern, Ms. Widmer-Schlumpf, the justice minister, told reporters that Switzerland had only one legal option for dealing with Mr. Polanski’s visit, and rejected the idea that there was any U.S. pressure in ordering the arrest.

“I know his films; they impressed me very much,” she said, but she underlined that Mr. Polanski could not be given special treatment because of his artistic talent, especially because the warrant was not for a trivial complaint.

Switzerland joined Europe’s passport-free area in 2008 and ended all passport checks in March on flights to and from the 24 other countries participating in the agreement. Even before then, it rarely closely monitored the identities of travelers from neighboring European countries entering Switzerland.

Investigators in the United States learned of Mr. Polanski’s planned trip days ago, giving them enough time to lay the groundwork for an arrest, said William Sorukas, chief of the U.S. Marshals Service’s domestic investigations branch.

“There have been other times through the years when we have learned of his potential travel, but either those efforts fell through or he didn’t make the trip,” Mr. Sorukas told the AP.

Earlier this year, Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza in Los Angeles dismissed Mr. 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.

Mr. 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. For instance, he testified by video link from Paris in a 2005 libel trial in London against Vanity Fair magazine. He did not want to enter Britain for fear of being arrested.

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