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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)

Sorry, but when I was 13 I could have seduced just about any man. (And the one man I did seduce had no idea I was 'under age' until shortly before our wedding day). Unlike some of you here, I remember when I was 13. Most of the planet marries off their daughters by 13, or at least tries to do so. This is absurd - although many 13 year old white girls are innocent and naive, this 'victim' was not one of them, by her own admission.

Marie in Virginia.

There was a very interesting hour-plus documentary about the Polanski "saga" and how the judicial process ultimately failed in this case. As I vaguely recall, there was a level of media frenzy and attorney screw ups that even the prosecution later admitted to. Also, the victim, now a mature adult, has publicly forgiven him.

After years of haggling, the criminal portion of the case was about to be settled when Polanski had enough and fled to Europe (France .. where he lives, I believe). Again, this was after Polanski tried to cooperate with authorities. He did not flee justice. He fled from a judicial process gone wild and a system that was altered solely because of his celebrity.

We have more important subjects before us today than reliving a decades old crime that no longer has a victim or a true place in our international media.

I love all the sarcasm here that implies 'Polanski wasn't a threat, why bother?'

Put simply - this less about his (original) crime any more, and more about whether we should simply let fugitives skip town and openly live the high-life abroad. If you do it for him, you'll have to do it for many, many others.

30 years, why did it take so long?

Now I will have to find a Swiss product to buy. If someone raped my 13 year old daughter, I would want the Marshalls to keep at it forever. Anyone defending him should think about their own children.

Drugged and raped a 13-year-old. I'm glad he was finally apprehended. He's not only a rapist, but he's a coward. A rich coward who hides behind his money. A big thank you to the US Gov't.

Don't cry for him Argentina. Personally, I don't care what Europe thinks or does in these matters. If they want to have 13 year old girls be drugged and then assaulted by older men, fine, degrade their own society. My daughter is 13, if it had been my daughter, Polanski might not have had any legs to run away on.

It doesn't matter what the girl thinks. We don't let people get off for robbing someone if the victim says, "Oh, I don't mind." Polanski thought he was hot spit and could thumb his nose at the law. Well, when he gets to jail, he will find the inmates do not like child molesters--even if they are movie directors.

Also, judges don't like people who skip out and child molesters are even more harshly sentenced now than when he ran away.

This guy should have been chased down and caught years ago. That he managed to evade capture and perform his art quite well is immaterial. He is a convicted rapist and should be made to serve his sentence.

Depite LA Times' patent bias toward celebrities, I am far from persuaded. Let the old coot fry!!!

In Hollywood, if a person utters a racial slur, they are lucky if they ever work again. If they utter an ethnic slur, against the wrong group, their reputation will be ruined forever, and no matter what they do or say, forgiveness will not be forthcoming.

But take topless photos of, drug, rape and sodomize a 13 year old girl (and in 1977, pre-Brittany Spears, 13 year old girls still played with Barbies), and there are no professional consequences, that person not only still finds work, and actors willing to work with him, but he goes on to win an Academy Award!

All the commenters here making excuses for that slime make me want to vomit.

Polanski should stand trial for this. Yes, there are many people in American jails, because they are criminals. You prbably would like it better if we just had sharia law and the girl could have been killed for being dishonored. Many girls and women get so sick of scrutiny after rape cases that they don't want to go through with them. Rape is a very embarrassing crime to the victim. It looks like her mom, Polanski, the media and the public were all against the victim here. What you seem to be saying is that because he's rich and famous, he should be allowed to get away with child rape.

I am also very pleased the victim has moved past this, and I agree Polanski is to stand before a judge and have his case argued and judged fully, not go skip town like a coward! Drugging, raping & sodomizing a 13-year old girl who repeatedly says, "NO" is not only a crime, but a sin! I pray for Polanski and all the posters here who defend his detestable behavior. It is sinners who Christ saves. Time for Roman to plead for God's tender forgiveness and mercy.

This would be a perfect plot for Cold Case?

The US is on par with Saudi Arabia? Really? The arrest of a man who raped, sodomized, and drugged a minor is equivalent to torturing prisoners by means of electric shock, nail pulling, flogging or amputation of limbs, or beheading for committing theft or abusing drugs?

Please don't exaggerate Polanski's fate while simultaneously cheapening the plight of Saudi citizens by comparing the abuses of the vile Saudi justice system to an arrest of a person who admitted to committing a crime against a minor then fled the country to avoid punishment.

The man raped a 13 year old Girl. He shouldn't be a famous director. He should be just getting out of jail. Maria, Dave and Kim you have got to be some of the most ignorant pile of compost to ever walked the face of this earth.

I can't believe how stupid some Europeans are. Polanski RAPED a 13 year girl, after he DRUGGED her! Then, when discovered, he RAN and left America instead of facing a TRIAL!

There is nothing barbaric or middle-eastern like about putting a rapists on trial, especially after he has ran from the trial for the last 31 years.

I guess if Polanski raped your 13 year old and then fled from Europe you would be cool with that as long as he didn't rape anyone else?

So the logic in Europe is you don't arrest old men, no matter what they do? Or is this just for celebrities? Or is rape not considered a big deal in Europe? This reaction from Europe is very confusing and troubling. It makes me scared to visit there.

Surem hunt down and prosecute Polanski while the mass murderers Bush, Cheney and Rowe roam free.

It's my understanding that Rush Limbaugh has a similar charge pending outside the US (DR) as does Rupert Murdoch in the Phillipines.

I dont care how long its been, he should be brought to justice. I am saddened by the callousness of some of the postings here. Where is your compasion for the oppressed? And why does elapsed time = justification? If we really care about Mr. Polanski we should be happy he is now in a position to come clean. Before men yes, but more significantly, before God, who might have mercy on his tortured soul.

This is a serious accusation - no matter how long ago. The Swiss obviously take the case seriously as well as their relationship with the USA and international agreements. If Polanski was not a celeb - few people would standing up for this man. If I am wrong, please poing out a case where you were opposed to another accussed rapist - fugative getting arrested? The man deserves his day in court - but so do the people of California.

As a conservative and a former police officer, I don't think this case should be pursued. The victim does not seem to care and questions linger about the judge and prosecutor in the case acted improperly when it was first tried. The case should be dismissed in the interests of "justice" and forgotten. Many times our system revolves around retribution rather than justice.

Seriously, we have to establish reasonable priorities in an era of economic realities and shrinking prospects. We can't dot every i or cross every t in such times, so we have to establish what is truly important and what is not. To spend several hundred thousand dollars in bringing Polanski back to LA is beyond idiocy. Hell, he left here 30 years ago and we haven't had to pay anything to house, clothe or feed him. Keep him out of the US.

I remember this case fairly well and it seems that there was a lot of collusion between the judge and the DA's office. That alone, is reason to question the fairness of the trial in the first place. If this were truly about justice, close the matter and be done with it! Polanski was frightened at how he perceived he was railroaded. What would you have done if you had options to get out of town before sundown?

I certainly do not condone what this man did to the young lady, but after 30 years? Come on now, get real! Let France have him. What may be a crime here may not be a crime there and if the victim chooses to move on, why make a big deal out of it?

Some Europeans have suggested that President Obama could grant clemency in this case. I don't think the President has that authority since it is a California state case. Only a judge can order the case dismissed, or the governor can grant state clemency for a crime committed here.

Not to excuse Polanski by any measure, but this guy has seen more tragedy in life than most of us will ever know. The deaths of his mother and family in the camps and his wife and friends at the hands of Manson and his crew. Yes, he's been through enough. Keep him out of the US and call it a day.

If you do the crime, you should serve the time.

Maybe ACORN will defend the pedophile, but I sure won't.

Jake T. appears to support pedophilia if it's someone he admires, or perhaps for other reasons. Love the way skank-brains say it's okay for Polanski, but not okay for the little folks. Maybe Jake T. is a member of an elite above the law.

Polanski is a bum. Hopefully, someone will shoot him and kill him as he is being moved about.

Failing that, I would like to see him sodomized in prison, just so he can learn what it feels like.

I am really sick of celebrities who believe the normal rules of human behavior and decency don't apply to them.

And the cynicism of 'the streets being made safe' fails to amuse me. How would you feel if it were YOUR child he had violated? So the family took a couple million from him as compensation, so what? That's justice?

Once a scumbag, always a scumbag. I'm sure his children are SO proud of him...

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