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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)

"He then forced himself on her as she begged him to stop."? I have never heard this statement before. The information I have read said the the young lady in question supplied the Quaaludes & that Polanski had never taken them before.
Your article implies that he raped her, while the charge is statutory rape, which has to do with being under age only. Her mother brought her to the director & left he alone. The girl , now a grown woman has repeatedly asked for the persecution of Polanski to stop. This article appears impartial but below it's surface seems distinctly inflammatory.

a (then) 40-something year-old drugs and anally rapes a 13 year-old girl and America is "scary"?

Look, as I understand it Polanski admitted guilt at the time of the trial. The girl was 13 years old, too young to give consent. There is no exception in the law for her later forgiveness or her previous experience or her moving on after a payoff -- or for Polanski being a victim himself, or a great artist. He should at least face trial and, if he's convicted, he should serve time.

Congrats to JFD8 whose limerick made my day!

No one is above the law. I hope they don't take his age into consideration when he faces his punishment, just like he didn't when he raped the 13 year old.

Before or after the wife and child were murdered probably with his knowledge or was it to bargain is way out of the child sex incident and make someone else accountable for an even more horrific crime. Shame on the woman who is now a 40 something woman with children of her own to file a motion to dismiss the charges. Does that child know an adult with her own children allow these filthy wealthy exploitive men to do the same or worse to her children?

Either he comes back and faces the music, or, the laws here in this country have to change. The laws in this country are archaic and puritanical. The woman involved said forget it; if a woman says forget it, it should be. But esp in CA have draconian laws. No wonder the system is over burdened. But if others have to face the music as long as the laws are what they are, then it is not fair for him to escape punishment while other languish in jail or prison due to lame laws. The puritanical legal system needs to change.

This action by the LA County district attorney's office sends a clear message: their budget is larger than it needs to be.

You gotta be kidding me. This is 100% political!!!!!!!!. If it was anyone else no one would care and no one would go to such lengths to try to prosecute him. You better spend our tax money on viable threats to our nation.

many are saying he paid his victim and she has forgiven him or he is an old man and we should move on. so rich people can pay off victims and run to france but poor people have to serve their time here in america for being child rapists? the nazi analogies are right on.

THIS IS A SIMPLE CASE OF RAPE: Roman pleaded guilty and will have to receive sentencing belatedly, including for flight to avoid prosecution.

The man is a 5'5" sex dwarf who had a history of seducing women, in this case after plying an under age girl with alcohol and drugs.

There is no logical reason why he should escape prosecution because of his celebrity, age, or expressed remorse. Many felons are arrested on an outstanding warrant years after their offense.

Roman is not being persecuted...he was very simply CAUGHT.

People please? He is a convicted sex offender. He raped, drugged and sodomized a 13 year old girl. He then asked her not to tell anyone and then took her home and spoke to her mother as if nothing happened. This guy is a bad guy, plain and simple. Am I missing something here? I just can't understand how so many of you think this horrible offense can be condoned simply because you don't like the USA or because 30 years has passed.
He needs to go to jail where he belongs.

I don't understand why people are coming to Polanski's defense. Should we also forgive all other child molesters and rapists. Mr. Kouchner, more sinister than his arrest is the fact that Polanski drugged and raped a girl that is my daughter's age. Mr. Mitterand, rape of children is one of the ugliest faces around. Shame on both of them for, in essence, condoning rape.

I guess the French don't care if their 13-year-old daughters are drugged and sodomized...

Why do so many people think Polanski should get a free pass? He raped a 13-year-old girl!!!!!! It's a sad commentary on our culture when wealth, talent or fame cause people to excuse a man for such a wretched crime. He should spend the rest of his life in prison. No exceptions.


What a huge waste of tax payer money! I don't advocate absolving Polanski, but with no progress in this case after 31 years, why take up this matter now? It can't be cheap and there are better uses of government money.

The French govrnement seems to think that they can lean on Hillary Clinton who will in turn lean on the California D.A.'s office. They don't understand that it's not "Clinton" or "Bush" or "Obama" that's prosecuting Polanski. That's because in France everything is centralized and leads back up to the president who controls the "parquet" (prosecutors office) and because politicians routinely interfere in judicial affairs, mostly to impede investigations of their wrongdoings or to put in a good word for personal protégés. The European Court for Human Rights recently ruled that the French judiciary was not independent and did not conform to European norms. This is not France. Polanski should be held to account for his actions.

The LA Times should report on what the costs are for pursuing Polanski in Switzerland and compare those costs to more immediate problems that could be addressed.

I'm pretty sure we're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars in a pursuit that will ultimately cost millions. We could put away a lot of bad guys in Caliofrnia today with the same money used for cops, prosecutors and jails.

What a waste of money. I won't be voting for this DA again.

Not suggesting that what he did wasn't terrible. But it's 30 years old and this entire story stinks of Political shuffling. I don't think the DAs office really cares about "bringing this guy to justice". C'mon. It's motivated by elections and need for more power.

Leave the guy alone. Figure out how to pay the bills (CA is still issuing IOUs, yes?) and come up with some better fish to fry.

This is ridiculous.

What is "scary" about America, in the mind of the urbane French culture minister, is that a member of his tribe doesn't get the special treatment aristocracy is supposed to have. Polanski's being treated just the same as any other loser who shagged a 13-year-old. Quelle horreur!

I read Patrick Goldstein's column regarding this matter and he is giving way too much deference to Mr. Polanski because of his artistic accomplishments.

If we allow this to go unchecked it would only support the notion that sytem of justice will only mete out punishment to those who can not afford a high profile attorney or do not have enough money to flee the country and avoid prosecution.

Any other citizen would have been in jail from the time the charges were filed throught the trial and into the actual sentence. I guess not if you're rich.

he is a rapist, a sodomizer and a pedophile. it scares me that europe clearly tolerates this behavior, especially from a wanted fugitive.

Hey Libs... Give Polanski a "politically correct" pass out of jail because 1) he's a famous movie director and 2) the crime happened 31 years ago. Garrido did his thing 18 years ago so he should walk too. Raping 13 year olds is OK with the Liberal Establishment. Change We Can Believe In!

I hope that the prosecution of Los Angeles is tough. Although the case is about 30 years ago, he should be punished. Forgetting is not acceptable option. Thus, it seems, he is a child molester! Schuldig!

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