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Roman Polanski's extradition to Los Angeles could take months

September 27, 2009 |  9:45 am

Roman Polanski could remain in Switzerland for months if he decides to fight extradition to Los Angeles, where he faces a rape conviction.

The film director has eluded U.S. capture for 30 years. A 1978 arrest warrant, issued after he failed to appear at his sentencing on the statutory rape conviction, is still in effect. The director of "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby" has not returned to the U.S. since then but continues to work as a director.

If he continues to fight, the court process could be quite lengthy, said Guido Ballmer, a spokesman for the Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police.

In that case, Ballmer said, U.S. authorities have 60 days to file formal papers requesting his extradition. Polanski can ask the Federal Penal Court of Justice to reject those papers and, if he is denied, appeal to a higher court, the Federal Court of Justice.

If he is denied there and ordered extradited, he can appeal that decision to the two courts again. Ballmer said it was impossible to estimate how long Polanski’s case could take.

Unlike in the U.S., however, any legal wrangling in Switzerland would take place outside of public view.

“There is certainly no public court meeting. It’s basically paperwork. The judges are talking to lawyers, to Mr. Polanski as well,” Ballmer said.

Despite the layered appeals process, Switzerland has extradited fugitives to the U.S. before. In 2005, the government sent a former Russian nuclear minister to the United States to face charges of stealing $9 million in American aid that was supposed to be spent on improving safety at Russian nuclear plants. That process took five months.

It is still possible the director will opt to allow extradition. “If he agrees with an extradition, he could be sent to the U.S. in the next days,” Ballmer said.

-- Harriet Ryan