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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)

I agree w/Ray - No matter how much time has passed, the fact remains (and he admitted guilt by pleading guilty to...)drugging, raping & sodomizing a 13-year old girl.

The same people who are crying about this lowlife rapist Polanski are probably the same people who want the CIA arrested for torture...after all the CIA blew cigar smoke in the murdering terrorists face and all poor Roman did was drug and sexually abuse a 13 year old girl...the world is upside down...

FINALLY. FINALLY justice will be served. People have said that he never acted right after Sharons murder - but raping a 13 year old IS NOT acceptable no matter how you look at it. The Liberals reading this on here will say "its been 30 years.. yada yada yada" BULL! He raped a 13 year old.. it doesnt matter if it was 3 months - 3 years, 30 YEARS ago.. you should pay for your crime no matter WHO you are. People get silly stupid after time goes by and start going easy on criminals.. Even the Bible warns to "execute the condemened quickly otherwise the people's hearts become FICKLED". This is exactly what we see time after time. People think just because time has passed that everything is ok and maybe it wasnt so bad... HORSE HOCKEY. I hope they put him in jail for 20 or more years... Because he RAN. He's had 30 years of freedom for a terrible crime against a child. Dont get me wrong, I saw the news the day the LaBianca/Tate/Folger murders occured. I watched the hysteria and then the craziness of the trial. I grieve for Polanski for Sharon and his unborn child's loss.. but that does NOT excuse what he did - PERIOD.

"...issued after he failed to appear at his sentencing on the statutory-rape conviction..."

EXCUSE ME? Statutory rape? This was not consensual. The victim has maintained the same accounting of events for 32 years. Mr. Polanski gave her alcohol and Rohypnol. More importantly, he proceeded to have vaginal and anal intercourse with her after she said "no."

Mr. Polanski was in his 40's. His victim was 13. She said "no." He had sex with her. What more needs to be known???

"Unlawful sex with a 13 year old ?" Okay stupid let me help you out. this wasn't sex illegal or otherwise.. This is RAPE of a 13 year old girl. who was drugged by a pervert so he could abuse this girl. he is a spineless yellow coward who preys on americas children. who knows who else he molested before her and how many afterwards. he disgusts me you disgust me with " unlawful sex"

I see a prison movie in the near future.

How much taxpayer money was wasted pursuing a case that even the victim doesn't want pursued?

Some of you truely disgust me. The fact that you would become so oturaged because this pedophile/child rapist was apprehended is absurd and speaks to your character. The facts of the case don't change just because he happens to be a film director of note.

For all you sophisticated Europeans: When a crime as heinous as rape of a child goes unpunished it acts as a cattle call to all the perverts in society. He defiled a child. What if it was your daughter of grand daughter? Or does this even seem like a crime to you? Those who call for his release may be telling on themselves.

The L.A County D.A.s office is grandstanding,Why don't leave it alone.Surely they have things of a higher priority than this.But what's his face ,the D.A.can grab some free publisity why not.

I love how people come to his defense. As an adult MAN he had sex with a 13 year old GIRL. If you think that is ok something is wrong with you.

I love the argument "there are more important crimes..." While this may be true it doesn't take away from what this man has done. If in Europe this is OK behavior, I feel sorry for your young children.

Wow - you have to be 13 years old to participate in this message board, but if you are 13 years old and raped by a Hollywood elite then people on this site will defend the rapist. You people in California know no boundaries. I am so glad I moved out of California 20 years ago becasue heaven forbid anyone in California be on jury in a case in which my child is involved as a victim. I couldn't count on you to do the right thing.

Ah, yes! The Europeans will clammor for his release. Of course the French, Poles and Spanish have been legally allowing child molestation to occur as a "cultural" phenomenon for centuries... they have no moral fiber. We, unfortunately for Mr. Polansky, are a nation of laws. The bastard ran to avoid prosecution, and just like any other common criminal, he's now going to pay... Poor Roman! Suck it up big guy, you'll have a large time in the US prison population, which is what you deserve. Gotcha!

It's stunning that so many posting comments here seem not to think Polanski should be punished for his vile act of abuse against a child. It doesn't matter what the victim wants; this was as much a crime against society as against the girl, and punishment is long overdue.

As for American being the Saudi Arabia of the West, are we supposed to be "enlightened" like the European countries and give tacit approval of sexual violence against a minor? Let's think about it like this: what would you think if it had been your child he raped? And even if you were the "over ambitious stage mother" of the child, would you then be willing to absolve Polanski and take full responsibility for what he did? Poor judgement on the part of a mother doesn't negate the crime or its need for punishment.

What have we come to as a nation of decent people, when there are people like those I see on this board who are willing to defend a man who drugged, sodomized, and raped a 13 year old girl? To those of you who are defending this man, shame on you. This is very sad. What if it were your daughter, sister, or loved one? Should it be thrown out even if it was years ago and the child molestor escaped the country? I can't believe some of the posts I am reading.

What have we come to as a nation of decent people, when there are people like those I see on this board who are willing to defend a man who drugged, sodomized, and raped a 13 year old girl? To those of you who are defending this man, shame on you. This is very sad. What if it were your daughter, sister, or loved one? Should it be thrown out even if it was years ago and the child molestor escaped the country? I can't believe some of the posts I am reading.

More important than catching a guy who rapes a 13 year old?
David, don't come near my kids buddy!

I really cannot believe the comments here advocating that there should be no punishment for this.

As a matter of law, it does not matter in the slightest whether the victim "has moved on" from this in the years since. He drugged, raped and sodomized a 13 year old girl. It isn't a matter of the police "trying to make a name for themselves"; it's a matter of justice.

I'll pose a question for the Polanski apologists: Would you forgive and forget if it was your 13 year old daughter who was raped?

Pedophiles everywhere are enraged that the world's most famous pedophile is finally being brought to justice

Some pedophile creeps think that since Polanski drugged and raped a child, then became a fugitive from justice for a few decades, he shouldn't have to do his prison time. What if it was your daughter who was drugged and raped?

Let's see some of the excuses from the pedophile supporters:

"The United States has too many prisoners, therefore famous pedophiles shouldn't have to go to prison."

LOL I bet these left-wing pedophile supporters weren't so forgiving when the Catholic priests were convicted.

First off, I'm not a Ploanerski fan but...Lessee, the Swiss grab Polanski years after He came to a $$$$ settlement with the girl, who has since forgiven him on a 31 yr old warrant by the ..guess who...U.S.?
Guess Obamalama has them by the short hairs now and they're just kissing his A$$...anything to take the pressure off UBS. The Swiss must REALLY be wussquaking if they sell out their own sovereignty and investors to capitulate to the U.S.
Amazing, Russia, China, Venezuela, and even Quaddafi Duck punk Obama constantly and the Swiss roll over and beg for forgivness. No wonder they never were anything but neutral in any war. "We'll trade you Polanerski for leaving UBS alone..pretty please??!!"

He should face the music and be a man!

If he were a black man in an inner city housing project, I can assure you that none of you would be wearing T Shirts beckoning his release!

He is being treated with kid gloves because he happens to make films and has commited a sex crime in Jack Nicholson's home.

He should defend himself and then let a jury or judge decide his fate.

What is wrong with the people commenting here? Yes, Polanski is a phenomenal director, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't be brought to justice for RAPING A 13 YEAR OLD. If your child was raped, wouldn't you want justice to the perpetrator, no matter the amount of time that passed or how famous they were?

Gotta laugh in the face of those that dismiss child rape as nothing. You are as sick as Polanski.

Some of the previous posters must live in an alternate universe where violent crime and violent sexual crime are no big deal. Are you people retarded in some way? Comparing American society and prison population with that of Europe is an apples to oranges comparison. Take California for example, the criminal gang population prowling the streets of nearly every city in California is difficult to grasp unless you actually live here as I do. There are literally hundreds of thousands of full fledged gang members preying on each other and the rest of society, its not as bad as Mexico yet but it's headed in that direction. And you wonder why the prison population is so high? The citizens have demanded mandatory sentencing to keep insane judges from turning these monsters loose after just a couple years behind bars for murder and mayhem.

Polanski has in no way whatsoever paid for his RAPE of a 13 year old girl. If the victim has moved on that's fine for her but Roman was fairly convicted and living the life of luxury and cult iconic status in France is not the punishment the jury had in mind when they sentenced him. I believe he won the Oscar in part because the committee felt sorry for him that he is being forced to live by the same rules as the rest of society. If a man drugs, rapes and sodomizes a 13 year old girl he should spend a major portion of the rest of his life behind bars and no that does not make the America the Saudi Arabia of Western countries. That was truly one of the most inane comments I have ever read.

I've never been able to understand this fawning desire to be kind to the perpetrator after the most heinous of crimes while caring little for victims. Kindness to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent.

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