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If they'd only known, Swiss authorities would have arrested Polanski long ago, official says

October 5, 2009 |  7:51 am

Roman Polanski would have been arrested by Swiss authorities long ago if they knew he regularly visited the country, a top Swiss justice official said.

Polanski -- who fled the U.S. three decades ago to avoid sentencing for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old -- was arrested last month as he got off a plane to attend the Zurich film festival.

His supporters have questioned the timing of the arrest, noting Polanski has been to Switzerland many times and even has a chalet at a Swiss resort.

But Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf insisted authorities never knew Polanski traveled to Switzerland -- until L.A. prosecutors informed them Polanski planned to attend the festival.

"This time, we knew that he would be coming. After all, the organizers of the Zurich Film Festival had actively made it known," Widmer-Schlumpf told the Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung.

"Switzerland is a constitutional state, and Mr. Polanski should always have counted on being disturbed on his earlier stays as well," Widmer-Schlumpf said.  "The arrest of Mr. Polanski has been sought worldwide by Interpol since 2005. If he comes to Switzerland, we are duty bound to fulfill the arrest as a treaty partner of the United States."

Polanski is facing what could be a long extradition battle. His lawyers say he will fight efforts to bring him back to Los Angeles.

A former Swiss justice minster criticized the way he was arrested.

Christoph Blocher told the Associated Press this weekend that Polanski should have been warned he would be arrested if he came to Zurich.

"You don't invite someone when you know he's going to be arrested," said Blocher. "You simply don't do that."

-- Shelby Grad

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