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Roman Polanski arrest becomes an international incident [Updated]

The arrest of Roman Polanski has become an international incident, with France and Poland demanding that the famed director be released on bail and questioning why he was taken into custody.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office wants Polanski extradited to face charges that he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl 30 years ago.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France-Inter radio that he and Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that Polanski be released on bail, calling his arrest  a "bit sinister."

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand was quoted in French media as saying, "In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face."

Swiss authorities told the Associated Press that bail has not been ruled out, but the director would have to stay in Switzerland.

Robert Harris, a British novelist who had worked with Polanski, said in a statement that he believed the arrest was "politically motivated." "I am shocked that any man of 76, whether distinguished or not, should have been treated in such a fashion," he said.

Polanski's decision to attend the Zurich Film Festival this weekend was a major win for a minor event, but it turned into a bigger coup for Los Angeles County authorities who seized the opportunity to arrange the arrest  of a Hollywood fugitive.

When the Academy Award-winning director of films such as "Chinatown," "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Pianist" arrived at the Zurich, Switzerland, airport Saturday night for a well-publicized appearance, Swiss officials armed with a U.S. arrest warrant took him into custody. The arrest touches off extradition proceedings that could return the filmmaker to the United States to face the child sex case he fled in 1978.

The county district attorney's office, which prosecuted Polanski 32 years ago for the sexual assault and has battled the director in the last year over his attempts to have the controversial case dismissed, initiated the arrest last week when it learned of his travel plans to Zurich.

"It wasn't any secret. It was on the Internet. They were selling tickets to it," said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the office. She said prosecutors prepared a provisional warrant and sent it to U.S. Justice Department officials, who presented it to Swiss authorities.

The arrest stunned Polanski, who has long lived in Paris, where his French citizenship protects him from extradition. His attorneys in the U.S. and France said that despite his fugitive status in the United States, the director routinely travels throughout Europe. He owns a chalet in the Swiss ski resort of Gstaad, and festival organizers said they never considered his U.S. legal problems when recruiting him to headline their event by accepting a lifetime achievement award.

"There were no concerns whatsoever," festival spokeswoman Nikki Parker said.

The length and outcome of Polanski's stay in Switzerland remained uncertain Sunday.

"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 statements by his French attorney suggested there was little chance that Polanski would return without a fight. Herve Temime told the French newspaper Le Figaro that he planned to fly to Switzerland with Polanski's wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner, to seek the director's release.

[Updated at 7:23 a.m.: Temime told ABC's "Good Morning America" that Polanski would fight extradition. "He wants to struggle, and I think it will be possible for us to maintain his freedom," he said.]

"We are going to argue a defense based on the extradition procedure," he said.

The U.S. Justice Department has 60 days to file a written request for Polanski's transfer to Los Angeles. If Polanski opposes extradition, the Swiss legal process can be lengthy because multiple levels of appeals are available, Ballmer said.

The arrest is the latest twist in a legal saga that has captivated and outraged the public since Jimmy Carter was president. In 1977, Polanski -- a household name both for his movies and for the Manson family murder of his then-wife, Sharon Tate -- was arrested at a Beverly Hills hotel and charged with raping and sodomizing a 13-year-old aspiring model. The girl told police the director had plied her with champagne and a piece of a Quaalude during a photo shoot at actor Jack Nicholson's Mulholland Drive home. He then forced himself on her as she begged him to stop.

Polanski reached a deal with prosecutors in which he pleaded guilty to a count of unlawful sex with a minor and prosecutors agreed not to pursue rape, sodomy and other charges. A judge ordered Polanski to spend 42 days in state prison for pre-sentencing "diagnostic testing." Polanski served the time and was released. But on the eve of his sentencing in 1978, he boarded a plane for Europe, never to return to the U.S.

The court issued an arrest warrant that has remained in effect since.

From his home in Paris, Polanski settled a civil suit by the victim, Samantha Geimer, for an unspecified amount, and she publicly forgave him. He continued to direct films in Europe and married Seigner, with whom he has two children.

In 1997, Polanski tried to work out a deal with the district attorney's office to return to L.A.: Authorities would arrest him at the airport and bring him straight to court, where he would be sentenced to time served and immediately released.

That deal fell apart, with Polanski's side saying that he objected to television coverage in the courtroom.

For the next decade, Polanski made no public attempts to resolve the case. He won the Academy Award for best director for 2002's "The Pianist," but was not at the ceremony despite Geimer's call for authorities to permit him to attend.

-- Harriet Ryan

Comments () | Archives (145)

Why does he think that he's so special that he thinks he's immune from the rules? Sure, there appear to be improprities from his trial, so come back and deal with them. I am amazed at the number of Europeans who say things like "it's a minor mistake", "it's 32 years ago", etc. So what? Amazing.

He is a child rapes and a fugitive from the law - he needs to come back to serve his time to society. Just because he is rich and popular with the "in crowd", doesn't negate the fact he is a criminal!!!!!!

While I certainly don't condone Mr. Polanski's behavior, why now? We can't even afford to keep the courthouses operating fulltime anymore. How much is this going to cost the State of California? I'm sure there are bigger fish to catch and prosecute in local waters. Whose great idea was this?

We can't even afford to keep the courthouses running fulltime. What is this going to cost the State of California? Whose bright idea was this? While I don't condone Mr. Polanski's very bad behavior, we must have bigger fish in our local waters to prosecute because they are a bigger threat to the public safety.

Oh USA, have you not bigger fish to fry? If the victim does not want Polanski prosecuted, who are you to drag her through more of this? I saw the documentary on Polanski and the corrupt LA Court - clean up the court system and leave the man who was forgiven by his victim alone!

all the Film Art Freaks aren't going to like this-Hollyweird-Sweden-etc

what the world admires about America is it's true sense of Justice. What the French minister meant to say is that France never had the guts nor the moral fortitude to bring a pedophile back to face the music.

What part of "equal justice under law" don't people understand ? I don't care how many movies he's directed or his exalted status in the cultural elite, he has to answer for his crimes, which he admitted to drugging and raping a 13-year old. By this standard we should let off Nazi prison guards because they are old men and their crimes happened long ago.

Enough...The girl was paid money...she took the money and moved on.

This is 100% political now. The crooked DA in LA is running for reelection and this would be a slam dunk for his campaign.

Lets not forget the bribery money paid to this DA by land developers and his wife using city cars and credit cards for personal use either.

This DA should be behind bars...not in front of them IMO.

Again the question is: why now? Polanski didn't just go skiing in Switzerland, he owned a chalet. Who is really benefiting from this?
America is sick but this is one time our need for salacious news be denied. This is not justice but a Cable News perp walk and the DA is no doubt salivating at another big trial.

Throw both PEDOPHILES Polanski and Mahoney in prison for life...
It would be good if they put them on the mainline where someone would put some steel in them but they will be PCd up like the rest of the chesters...

So does this mean LAPD has finished processing the backlog of rape kits?

Robert Harris, a British novelist, says "I am shocked that any man of 76, whether distinguished or not, should have been treated in such a fashion." Mr. Harris what is shocking is that any girl of 13, whether distinguished or not, should have been drugged, raped, and sodomized by Polanski!

Robert Harris, a British novelist who had worked with Polanski, said in a statement that he believed the arrest was "politically motivated."I am shocked that any man of 76, whether distinguished or not, should have been treated in such a fashion," he said.

Would Mr Harris say the same about some old NAZIS being arrested with an age over 85 ? Sorry - I am not a Nazi - but maybe Polanski is also not the innocent sheep...already his role in the Tate case resp. the conflicts he was involved with some serious drug dealing at this time (read Ed Sanders book about this......) doesnt make him look so innocent at all ..........

Recent news sounded to me like a plot in a Hollywood movie, the Hunter and the Hunted. Germany hunted an old Nazi guard while Swiss/US goverment hunted a rapist. I think Polanski should have turned himself in a long time ago.

Thank God for Switzerland.

How ironic. The LA Times does not allow persons under 13 years of age to comment on articles, yet there are those who believe that the 13 year old girl seduced Polanski and that the monster should be pardoned for his heinous crimes.

Here's a clue: the reason we don't allow minors to do all sorts of stuff is because they lack the maturity, experience and sufficient strength of character to make rational decisions. That is why minors can't "give consent" and why exploitation of any child is ALWAYS a crime. Children are innocent and are born with an innate tendency to respect and try and please authority figures.
This cowardly child rapist has been running for over 30 years. Now its time to face justice - to show that crimes against children are heinous in the extreme and will always be taken seriously regardless who the perpetrator is.

As for the French and Polish politicians railing against Polanski's "sinister arrest" - the only thing sinister is their support for this criminal. I hope their constituents demonstrate their contempt for these sinister ministers.

If a priest or other public figure did what he did and then took off, the DA's office would be tormented by the public until justice was done. Why should Polanski be treated any differently?

This just proves that NOBODY protects children and that NOBODY really cares. Its so sad.

Although I know who Polanski is and what he has been accused of I don't care anything about him or his case. It has no meaning at all to me.

I am not surprised that after 31 years he still has to appear in front of a US court. Since his victim is no longer sueing him, he should be discharged and released. The worst side of this story is why did the Swiss arrest him? Is this a payback after the UBS bank problems in the US? Strange the way they treat a guest who BTW has a residence in Switzerland.

OK, it's finally official: Switzerland has become America's new butt-boy. First, Swiss banking privacy was turned into Swiss cheese, and now this. Hopefully, Polanski will be able to clear his record at last...

This a case of judges terrorizing people who refuse to submit to their unlimited powers.

Our question as a society needs to be: Is the community at risk? Not: What punnishment equals the victims suffering. The evaluation was rightly done, but apparently they came to a conclusion that history has not bourne out. There is no trail of future victims, in fact he has been a productive member of society. That Roman knew he was about to be judged unjustly and yet consent, is more than can be asked of anyone. The judgement based on community protection seems far too easily grafted onto equalizing pain by prosecutors not to evaluate the algorithm used in determining such risk.

Roman Polanski fled from the US in order to avoid being persecuted for rape of a 13 year old girl. He drugged her then raped her. This is not forgivable. Even though he fled to Europe, it doesn't mean he stopped. I think he should own up to what he has done. Just because he is famouse doesn't mean he should be treated any differently.

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