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After several tries, U.S. officials finally nab Roman Polanski in 1970s rape case [Updated]


Three decades after he fled the United States following his arrest for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl, Roman Polanski was taken into custody in Zurich this morning and faces extradition to Los Angeles.

Polanski, the famed film director whose career continued to flourish even after fleeing for Europe, was arrested as he arrived in the Swiss city to accept an award at the Zurich Film Festival.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office learned last week that Polanski had plans to travel to Zurich this weekend, said Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.

Prosecutors sent a provisional arrest warrant to the U.S. Justice Department, which presented it to  Swiss authorities. On at least two previous occasions, the district attorney’s office has received reports that Polanski had travel arrangements to countries with extradition treaties with the U.S. and prepared paperwork for his arrest, Gibbons said.

“But in the end, he apparently found out about it and didn’t go,” she said.

A source familiar with the investigation told The Times that the U.S. Marshals Service had come close to arresting Polanski half a dozen times or so over the past few decades -- though several of those opportunities presented themselves in the last two years.

"For one reason or another, it just didn't work out," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing. "There are so many variables."

The source said Polanski always was very careful about when and where he traveled. But as new questions arose in recent years about the fairness of his case, the source said Polanski appeared to become more at ease about travel.

Thomas Hession, head of the Marshals Service's  Los Angeles office, would not comment on specifics of the case but said authorities moved quickly on each lead. "Any time information was developed, the L.A. County district attorney's office and the Marshals Service immediately acted on it."

Asked if prosecutors would ask that Polanski be sentenced to time behind bars if he were returned to the U.S., Gibbons said, “We’ve always maintained this is a matter between Polanski and the court. … We initially recommended prison time for him, but I can’t see into the future.”

An attorney for Polanski, Chad Hummel, declined to comment. “Right now, we’re not in a position to say anything,” he said.

[Updated 1:00 p.m. : In a statement, three Los Angeles attorneys representing Polanski  indicated the arrest came as a surprise. The lawyers have been representing him in an ongoing attempt to have the case against Polanski dismissed on the grounds of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct.

"We were unaware of any extradition being sought and separate counsel will be retained for those proceedings,” wrote attorneys Douglas Dalton, Chad Hummel and Bart Dalton. Their request to have the 1977 charges against Polanski dismissed is currently pending before the state Court of Appeal.

The organizers of the Zurich Film Festival expressed “great consternation and shock” over Polanski’s arrest and said the program honoring his films would go on in his absence.

 A spokeswoman for the event, Nikki Parker, wrote in an e-mail that neither Polanski nor the organizers considered his legal status in the U.S. an issue in attending the festival because he often traveled to Switzerland and even owned a home there.

“There was no concern whatsoever,” Parker wrote.]

Polanski, now 76 and a married father of two, asked the court to throw out the entire case based on new allegations of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct detailed in an HBO documentary last year. The L.A. district attorney’s office argued that he could not make such a request while a fugitive, and an L.A. judge earlier this year agreed. A 1997 attempt at settling the case also failed.

Polanski was arrested 31 years ago at a Beverly Hills hotel after a 13-year-old girl accused him of sexually assaulting her during a photo shoot at actor Jack Nicholson's house.

A 1978 arrest warrant, issued after he failed to appear at his sentencing on the statutory-rape conviction, is still in effect, and he would be taken into custody upon arrival on U.S. soil. The director of "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby" has not returned to the U.S. since then but continues to work as a director, winning an Oscar for "The Pianist."

Polanski’s stay in Switzerland could be brief if he opts to return to Los Angeles.

“If he agrees with an extradition, he could be sent to the U.S. in the next days,” said Guido Ballmer, a spokesman for the Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police.

But if Polanski declines to come back without a fight -- perhaps a more likely scenario given his three decades as a fugitive -- the court process could be quite lengthy, Ballmer told The Times.

The appeals process has several layers and could last months, if not longer. 

-- Harriet Ryan and Andrew Blankstein

Photo credit: A Polanski fan waits for Zurich's Filmfestival. Polanski would have been awarded tonight with the "Golden Eye Award" for his lifework. Ennio Leanza / EPA

More coverage:

Roman Polanski photo gallery

Roman Polanski's attorneys stunned by arrest

Samantha Geimer on being the victim of Polanski and the media

Polanski's extradition to L.A. could take months

Comments () | Archives (278)

42 days in an evaluation facility for child rape is NOT punishment, I don't care what the private settlement was with the girl's family.

I am very pleased the victim has moved past this, but Polanski needs to stand before a judge and have his case argued and judged fully, not skip town.

Wow. So now we're safe to walk the streets again. Thank god we live in a country where the criminal justice system works so tirelessly in our interests.

The long arm of the law finally nabbed this fugitive from justice. Good work by the US Marshals.

Archcriminal Polanski Nabbed! This is a happy day for fans of law and order everywhere! Wily supercriminal Roman Polanski finally in the arms of justice -- hopefully they will send him to Arkham Asylum to be rehabilitated! His alter ego...The Moviemaker!

Left unreported is the fact that both the French and the Polish governments have today made *official* requests to the US government to free Polanski. This arrest just "does not compute" for much of Europe (notwithstanding the obvious Swiss pandering to get back into the US's good graces after the bank secrecy brouhaha).

In matters of criminal justice, America is the Saudi Arabia of the western world.

Whew--that dangerous Polanski is off the streets and now we don't have to lock up our daughters any longer. What about those ambitious stage mothers who allow 13-year-old girls to be alone with strange men in the hopes of furthering their careers? No negligence there, of course!

I think that this situation is far less black and white than most people are aware of and would like to believe.

The attitudes of most Americans are appalling. It seems to me that people are less interested in seeing "justice getting done" (as so many claim to be) and more interested in the following and inevitable media sensation that is about to blow up. And there is nothing that the media, especially the American media, loves more than a good lynching. It is awfully bloodthirsty.

The only opinion that matters is that of Samantha Geimer's. I personally believe that Polanski should have done his time when it was his time, but he fled for a reason that should have never come up in the first place. What follows is that the victim appears to have moved on in the meantime and Polanski has behaved himself and in a way has already paid the price. I do agree with Jake T. I'm surprised that the Americans have not yet started stoning people in the streets.

No matter how much time has passed, the fact remains he admitted guilty of drugging, raping & sodomizing a 13-year old girl. Whether the victim wants him behind bars is irrelevant.

This is simply a case of the Los Angeles County District Attorney trying to make a name for himself. It is not in the interest of "justice." The United States has by far more prisoners per capita than any other Western nation; throwing people in prison has become a "pastime" for our judicial system.

The United States has many, many problems that are far more important than chasing down a famous film director. It is a waste of money and time, especially considering that the case will probably be either dismissed or thrown out of court on appeal.

The U.S. Marshals were not "chasing down a famous film director" but a convicted child rapist.

This is a well-orchestrated, publicity stunt for Polanski and The Ghost (2010), nothing more. With that in mind, kudos to lawyer/agents at ICM.

France and America have different views of morality and justice. Both have an honorable tradition and both can be defended with honor. Those Americans who shout out their Puritan idea that the law is about vengeance only reveal the narrowness of their experience and appear naive. Mitterand's comment about the "scary" America refers to people like that: the people who naively launch out on crusades believing that they represent absolute "justice" while, in fact, doing more harm than good. Read Melville (Billy Budd, Benito Cereno, Moby Dick) and Hawthorne (The Scarlett Letter) to understand why a simple minded application of the law is in itself as evil as the crimes the moralist would condemn. At our worst, we are a country of witch hunters; MItterand is exactly right.

In all likelihood, Polanski did have sex with a thirteen year old girl. What else do we know about him: he was a child survivor of the holocaust, a trauma which deprived him of his youth, which left him alone in a nightmare world. Somehow he fought to survive, made art of astonishing beauty, came to America and married one of the most beautiful and apparently wonderful young ladies of his time. And she was murdered in one of the most nightmarish crimes in all history. Most people with that life history would probably have gone mad, and perhaps in Polanski there is a touch of madness.

Does this justify his crime? No. But we should ask ourselves: who does it serve to pursue him across the decades? To whom does he pose a threat? What beautiful works of art might he still create? Yes! His artistry does matter here. How many of the greatest artists have been touched by madness? That's right; nearly all of them. Leonardo da Vinci was charged with sex crimes too! (Though not in the American Disneyfied official story). . I suppose the moralists in the room think Italy should have sent him to hang? Too bad that he hadn't yet created any of his famous art. The world really didn't need any of that. After all, it exists to protect the shallow, mean spirited moralists whose crimes are carefully suppressed beneath the laws they subvert in subtler ways. Switzerland-- land of legal criminalty-- on the vastest scale, arresting Polanski? Does nobody see the horror in that? The Swiss, by the way were the one who invented the tagging of Jewish passports-- they insisted the Nazis do this to help keep Jewish refugees out of their pristine country of secret bank accounts and tycoon narco/arms traffickers.

Mitterand reveals a superior understanding of morality and justice.

I am proud to be an American. Proud to live in a City with a D.A. who protects the innocent. No one has the right to take away another person's innocence! No one. God Bless America and thank you Switzerland!

This loser has been thumbing his nose at the charges for over 31 years and has passed up or had opportunities to come settle it through this time also.
He's a low life creep who slimed his way out and has been living free for many years.
He's a sleaze ball and should spend some time in jail for the drugging and raping he did. He fled justice, now he is caught and must deal with it. end of story
Maybe he shouldn't have fled in the first place.

Javert would approve.

Polanski in custody, and war criminals Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld roam free. Hope they travel to Europe real soon.


I am so glad our taxes are used so efficiently by these global cops we can call out own! They truly serve the people and keep us safe. They are fair, honest, diligent and have a clearer set of priorities than anyone I know. God Bless America!

As a Swiss Citizen I m proud that my country could help the US-authorities in the "case Polanski". On the other hand I regret that we didn't extradate MARC RICH too, before it was too late and Bill Clinton pardoned him in 2001...

Greetings from Switzerland

There is one sad thing about this case. The great nation and democracy of France was not able to bring Mr Polanski to justice within more then 30 years, a man who did confess the accusation of having sex with an minor. And why does Switzerland has to answer questions about the action it took today? Is it still a trivial offence for some people not to worry about too much?

Fact: Polanski plead guilty and then skipped his sentencing hearing.

Fact: He raped a thirteen year old girl. And, by her account, after a preparatory round of quaaludes and alcohol.

Anyone who thinks that this is somehow mitigated by the forgiveness of his victim or his purported artistic achievements is simply idiotic. Nothing more needs to be said about this topic.

California is bankrupt. California has been letting dangerous criminals out on the street already because they can't afford to keep them in jail. This is a ridiculous waste of time and money, and if Mr. Polansky were not famous believe me the DA would not care and would never have pursued this case. The judge renegged on the original sentencing deal causing Polansky to flee in the first place, the judge is now dead and cannot testify as to the improprieties that occurred in the original case, and the victim herself does not want punishment. The truth is that there is zero chance that Polansky is a threat to California's children. Schwarzenegger should just pardon Polansky so everyone can move on and deal with California's enormous problems.

We may not agree with the plea bargain but that was our justice system at work. Take it up with them. If the public wishes to crucify someone it should be the original judge. If not for him, the case would have gone much differently and he wouldn't have fled in the first place.

ameryka to buraki!!!!!!

It's about time they grabbed this guy and shame on Hollywood and his Movie Business friends for voicing such outrage. No matter what the circumstances were he Drugged and raped a Child. I'm sure she was paid handsomely to forgive and forget but he still Drugged and Raped a Child. Time to pay the piper!

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