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Roman Polanski's arrest: a Swiss political ploy to ward off U.S. charges against banking giant UBS?

September 29, 2009 |  8:12 am

Film director Roman Polanski at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival

Hollywood is fighting the case against film director Roman Polanski, who was arrested in Switzerland over the weekend. Polanski pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl but fled the U.S. before sentencing -- living outside the U.S. for the last 30 years. "We're calling on every filmmaker we can to help fix this terrible situation," said mogul Harvey Weinstein.

But Washington is watching too.

According to Britain's Guardian, rumors are circulating that Swiss authorities may be using Polanski as a sacrificial lamb to appease their U.S. counterparts in Washington who are investigating a widening tax-evasion scandal involving Swiss banking giant UBS.

"Almost everyone agrees that the 76-year-old director's arrest on arrival at Zurich airport smacks of back-channel deal-making," wrote Edward Helmore in the online news magazine The First Post. "But who's been making the deals and with whom? Was the decision to help the Americans an attempt to ease tensions between the two countries in the wake of an offshore banking scandal?

Ticket has put in a call to the Justice Department and is awaiting a callback.

In the meantime, this is what is fueling the speculation.

A New Jersey businessman, Juergen Homann, last week  became the fifth UBS AG client since April to agree to plead guilty to concealing money from U.S. tax and finance authorities by using offshore accounts, including Swiss bank UBS. The Internal Revenue Service last week extended an amnesty program -- until Oct. 15 -- for Americans who hid money in offshore accounts to come clean. So far, 3,000 have turned themselves in. And in a blow to the pride of Swiss banking secrecy, as part of the investigation,  UBS -- which already agreed to a $780-million fine -- is preparing to hand over 4,450 client names to Justice and the IRS.

Swiss Justice Ministry spokesman Guido Balmer rejected talk that Polanski's arrest was a political move. "There was a valid arrest request and we knew when he was coming," he said Sunday. "That's why he was taken into custody. There is no link with any other issues in question."

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo Credit: Roman Polanski at the 2008 Cannes film festival. Photograph: Guillaume Horcajuelo / EPA

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