Justice Ministry rejects director's appeal

BERN, Switzerland — Roman Polanski lost his first bid to win his freedom Tuesday as the Swiss Justice Ministry rejected an appeal by the 76-year-old to be immediately released from prison, an official said.

“We continue to be of the opinion that there is a high risk of flight,” said ministry spokesman Folco Galli, explaining the decision.

Galli told the Associated Press that the risk was too great for the government to accept bail or other security measures in exchange for the release of the filmmaker who is wanted by U.S. authorities for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl.

Polanski was apprehended Sept. 26 as he arrived in Zurich to receive an award from a film festival.

Authorities in Los Angeles consider him a convicted felon and a fugitive, and Switzerland says there has been an international warrant out on him since 2005.

His legal representatives are also asking Switzerland’s highest criminal court to free Polanski.

Galli said the Justice Ministry has submitted a letter to the tribunal explaining why it opposes release even on bail. Two former Zurich prosecutors have said Polanski stands a minimal chance of an immediate release.

Dieter Jann said extradition would be hard to fight, and he thought Switzerland had followed procedures correctly.

Peter Cosandey added that Polanski was unlikely to be released because he is not a permanent resident and had already jumped bail years ago in the U.S.

Polanski was accused of plying the underage girl with champagne and part of a Quaalude pill during a modeling shoot in 1977, and raping her.

He was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy.

He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse. In exchange, the judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and sentence him to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation.

However, he was released after 42 days by an evaluator who deemed him mentally sound and unlikely to offend again.

The judge responded by saying he was going to send Polanski back to jail for the remainder of the 90 days and that afterward he would ask Polanski to agree to a “voluntary deportation.”

Polanski then fled the country, on Feb. 1, 1978, the day he was scheduled to be sentenced to the additional time.

Galli confirmed that Washington has yet to file a formal request seeking extradition.

But he said the U.S. probably wouldn’t need its entire 60-day period to submit all documents. “I assume this is a priority case in the United States,” Galli said.

Regardless of the court decision, Polanski will likely have to remain in prison for months as his case in the Swiss courts progresses.

The Federal Criminal Court has said it will rule in the case in the “next weeks,” and a verdict in either direction can be appealed to the country’s highest judicial body, the Federal Tribunal. Galli said the director of “Chinatown,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Pianist” would remain in prison for the duration of this process.

Polanski has received backing from directors and film stars in Hollywood and Europe, and from government officials in France and Poland, where he holds citizenship.

But some of that support has waned since the original shock of his arrest, with leading French and Polish officials urging a more restrained reaction considering the crime.

In Switzerland, debate has raged among parliamentarians and cultural figures over the neutral country’s role in arresting Polanski as he came to attend a government-backed festival.

Few, however, have challenged the legality of his imprisonment and likely extradition.

Former Justice Minister Christoph Blocher said last week the director should have been warned — an assertion rejected by legal experts — but added that the case against Polanski now was quite simple and that he “must be extradited.”

Polanski and the victim, Samantha Geimer, reached a $500,000 settlement in October 1993, according to documents recently released in Los Angeles. Geimer, who long ago identified herself, sued Polanski in December 1988 when she was 25 years old, alleging sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and seduction.

She has since joined in Polanski’s bid for dismissal and has forgiven him.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more