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L.A. prosecutors planned Polanski arrest after learning he would be accepting award in Zurich [Updated]

September 27, 2009 |  8:41 am

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Director Roman Polanski is in Swiss custody awaiting extradition to Los Angeles after being arrested in Zurich in connection with his 1977 Los Angeles rape case.

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.

Asked if prosecutors would ask that Polanski be sentenced to time behind bars if he was returned to the U.S., she 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.

Polanski, now 76 and a married father of two, asked the court to throw out the entire case in December based on new allegations of prosectorial 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."

The Swiss Justice Ministry said Polanski was taken into custody after he flew in to receive an award at the Zurich Film Festival.

[Updated at 9:20 a.m.: 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.]

The ministry issued the following statement:

"Yesterday evening Roman Polanski was arrested at his arrival and was put in provisional detention in view to extradition based on an US arrest warrant. The US authorities are accusing Roman Polanski of sexual acts with minors, specifically in a case of 1977 with a 13 year old girl in Los Angeles. Since the end of 2005 the US authorities are searching worldwide for Roman Polanski.

"An US arrest warrant against Roman Polanski exists since 1978. Whether Roman Polanski will be effectively extradited to the USA or not, can be established only, after the extradition process judicially has been finalised. It is possible to appeal at the federal penal court of justice against an arrest warrant in view to extradition as well as against an extradition decision. Their decisions can be taken further to the federal court of justice. In respect to this pending process it is not possible to give any further information."

-- Harriet Ryan

Photo: 2005 file image, Gerard Julien / AFP/Getty Images

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