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Roman Polanski Arrested, May Face Extradition to U.S.

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Roman Polanski Arrested, May Face Extradition to U.S.
Photo Source: Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images
COLOGNE, Germany -- Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski has been arrested in Switzerland and could face extradition to the United States on a decades-old sex charge.

Swiss authorities arrested Polanski, 76, on his arrival at the Zurich airport Saturday night. The director was en route to the Zurich Film Festival, where he was scheduled to receive a lifetime achievement award.

Polanski has traveled to Switzerland several times without incident in the past. "(But) this time, we knew exactly when he was coming," police spokesman Guido Balmer told the press. Balmer said Polanski was being held until a decision was reached on his extradition to the U.S. That could take some time. Polanski's lawyers could fight extradition all the way to the Swiss supreme court.

"We were unaware of any extradition being sought, and separate counsel will be retained for those proceedings," according to a statement from Polanski's California counsel -- attorneys Douglas Dalton, Chad Hummel and Bart Dalton. They added, "An issue related to the Swiss extradition matter is presently being litigated before the California Court of Appeal. We had hoped that this would be determinative of this case."

The Zurich Film Festival canceled Saturday's ceremony and condemned the arrest.

French culture minister Frederic Mitterrand said he was "stunned" by the news and said French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for a rapid resolution of the situation. Without directly commenting on the merits of the case, Mitterrand said Polanski had already suffered enough in his life. Polanski was born in France and is a French citizen.

In 1977, Polanski was accused of drugging a 13-year-old girl with champagne and a Quaalude tablet and performing various sex acts, including intercourse, with her during a photo shoot at actor Jack Nicholson's Hollywood home. While he insisted the sex had been consensual, Polanski pleaded guilty to a single count of having unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.

But he fled the United States before he could be sentenced. U.S. authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in 1978. Polanski has lived in France for decades to avoid arrest, even declining to accept in person his Best Director Academy Award for "The Pianist" in 2003.

Polanski's lawyers tried earlier this year to have the charges thrown out on the grounds that the judge at the time was improperly coached by a prosecutor. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza acknowledged their was "substantial misconduct" in the original case against Polanski and gave him until May 7 to turn up in his court to pursue the matter. When Polanski did not appear, the judge refused to throw out the case.

As evidence of the misconduct, Espinoza cited Marina Zenovich's 2008 documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" which depicts backroom deals between prosecutors and a media-obsessed judge who was worried his public image would suffer if he didn't send Polanski to prison.

Polanski's victim, the now 45-year-old Samantha Geimer, is among those calling for a reprieve. Geimer made her identity public years ago mainly, she said, because she was disturbed by how the criminal case against Polanski had been handled. Geimer has successfully sued Polanski and received and undisclosed settlement.

Roman Polanski was scheduled to travel to Cologne this week to attend media confab the Cologne Conference and receive another lifetime achievement award. That now seems unlikely.

Nielsen Business Media

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