Director Roman Polanski was arrested by the police on Saturday after flying into Switzerland for the Zurich Film Festival — now the biggest question is whether he will be extradited to the U.S. for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
Polanski was scheduled to receive the fest’s Golden Eye award for lifetime achievement when he was apprehended at Zurich Airport, the Swiss Justice Ministry said. It said U.S. authorities have sought the arrest of the 76-year-old director around the world since 2005.
“We were unaware of any extradition being sought, and separate counsel will be retained for those proceedings,” wrote his Los Angeles attorneys Douglas Dalton, Chad Hummel and Bart Dalton in a statement.
Polanski’s French lawyer, Georges Kiejman, told France-Inter radio that it was “too early to know” if Polanski would be extradited.
“The proceedings must take their course,” he said Sunday. “For now we are trying to have the arrest warrant lifted in Zurich.”
Zurich fest organizers said they were “shocked and dismayed” by the arrest in a statement on the website, but nevertheless decided to hold the award ceremony — “A Tribute to Roman Polanski” — and the retrospective of his work on Sunday.
“Obviously we had no knowledge whatsoever of the plans to arrest Roman Polanski,” fest topper Karl Spoerri told the crowd of 650 who came to see the tribute. “The jury decided months ago to honor Roman Polanski. There was never any suggestion at any time from Polanski’s management or from Swiss authorities that Polanski would be detained.”
Outside the theater protesters held up signs reading “Free Polanski” and “Polanski’s arrest is a disgrace for culture in Switzerland.”
If Polanski agrees to allow extradition, he could be sent to the U.S. within a few days. If he fights the order, it could take several months for the case to get through Swiss courts.
“There was a valid arrest request, and we knew when he was coming,” Justice Ministry spokesman Guido Balmer told the Associated Press. “That’s why he was taken into custody.”
Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the director will remain in Zurich until the conclusion of the extradition proceedings. The U.S. now has 60 days to file a formal request for Polanski’s transfer, she said.
The “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby” helmer fled the U.S. for France in 1978, a year after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with an underage girl.
Polanski has tried to get his case overturned in the past.
His victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago identified herself publicly, backs Polanski’s bid for dismissal, saying she wants the case to be over. She sued Polanski and reached an undisclosed settlement.
Earlier this year a Los Angeles judge dismissed a bid to throw out his conviction for having sex with Geimer because Polanski refused to appear in court for a hearing on the matter (Daily Variety, May 7).
New evidence in the HBO docu “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” directed by Marina Zenovich, revealed misconduct by Santa Monica Judge Laurence A. Rittenband, who has since died, during the trial against the director in 1977.
The script and DVD of the docu, which aired on HBO in June, were used by Polanski’s lawyers as part of the request to have the case dismissed.
In February, Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza agreed the new facts suggested misconduct took place, but said he could not throw out the conviction without Polanski’s presence in his courtroom.
After watching the pic, Espinoza said, “It is hard to contest that some of the conduct portrayed in film on that documentary was misconduct.”
Polanski opted not to appear because he feared being arrested had he stepped onto U.S. soil.
In the Swiss capital of Bern, Widmer-Schlumpf told reporters that Switzerland had only one legal option for dealing with Polanski’s visit and rejected the idea that there was any U.S. pressure in ordering the arrest.
Investigators in the U.S. learned of Polanski’s planned trip days ago, giving them enough time to lay the groundwork for an arrest, said William Sorukas, chief of the U.S. Marshals Service’s domestic investigations branch.
“There have been other times through the years when we have learned of his potential travel but either those efforts fell through or he didn’t make the trip,” Sorukas told the AP.
Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, said, “Any time word is received that Mr. Polanski is planning to be in a country that has an extradition treaty with the U.S., we go through diplomatic channels with the arrest warrant.”
Polanski recently wrapped an adaptation of Robert Harris novel “The Ghost,” with Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor, which has yet to land a U.S. distrib. The thriller was presold overseas by Summit. Though set in the U.S. on Martha’s Vineyard, pic subbed in German islands for the Massachusetts setting.
Polanski has lived for the past three decades in France, and he received a directing Oscar in absentia for 2002 movie “The Pianist.” He is married to French actress Emanuelle Seigner, with whom he has two children.
He has avoided traveling to countries likely to extradite him. For instance, he testified by video link from Paris in a 2005 libel trial in London against Vanity Fair magazine. He did not want to enter Britain for fear of being arrested.
Polanski was accused of raping Geimer while photographing her during a modeling session. Geimer said Polanski plied her with champagne and part of a Quaalude pill at Jack Nicholson’s house while the actor was away. Polanski was allowed to plead guilty to one of six charges, unlawful sexual intercourse, and was sent to prison for 42 days of evaluation.
Lawyers agreed that would be his full sentence, but the judge tried to renege on the plea bargain. Aware the judge would sentence him to more prison time and require his voluntary deportation, Polanski fled.
France’s Foreign Ministry said the French ambassador to Switzerland and the consul general in Zurich have contacted Swiss authorities about arranging a consular visit for Polanski.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner spoke to his Swiss counterpart, Micheline Calmy-Rey, to urge that “Polanski’s rights be fully respected and that the case would quickly result in a favorable outcome.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)