Emails show prosecutors closely monitored director
American prosecutors closely monitored Roman Polanski in Austria and considered seeking his arrest there days before the director’s apprehension in Switzerland, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.
Los Angeles officials decided against filing a warrant for Polanski’s arrest with the Austrian government after questioning how accommodating it would be to an extradition request. They also were concerned about the limited time available before Polanski left the country, according to e-mails obtained by the AP under U.S. public records request.
The e-mail exchange Sept. 23 came three days before Polanski traveled to Switzerland and was arrested Sept. 26 at Zurich’s airport. It sheds new light on how closely U.S. officials were monitoring the 76-year-old director’s movements after being tipped off that he was outside France, and why they chose to go after him in Switzerland, where they are now seeking his extradition for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl.
“I don’t have experience with any Austrian extraditions so I don’t know how ‘friendly’ they would be to extradition on such a case,” Diana Carbajal, a Los Angeles deputy district attorney, wrote in an e-mail.
She wrote that Polanski had checked out of an Austrian hotel that morning and was “on the move” ahead of his scheduled appearance at the Zurich Film Festival on Sept. 26. With the little time available and questions over extradition, she asked whether it was better to “maintain our position to extradite from Switzerland.”
Lael Rubin, another deputy district attorney, answered: “Yes.”
Polanski had been in Austria as early as Sept. 16, when he attended the opening night of his cult musical “Dance of the Vampires” in Vienna.
E-mails obtained by the AP show U.S. officials only learned of his upcoming trip to Zurich after the Swiss asked if Washington would be submitting a request for his arrest.
Swiss Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli said the Americans immediately confirmed they would seek Polanski’s arrest. As a result, Switzerland was required by treaty to apprehend Polanski, the director of such film classics as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown.”
It is unclear from the e-mails why Los Angeles officials were concerned about Austrian cooperation on a Polanski extradition request. There was no reference to Polanski’s history as a Jewish Holocaust survivor whose mother died in Auschwitz, or the sensitivities about having him pursued in the land of Adolf Hitler’s birth.
Austria and the United States have an extradition agreement, and the Vienna prosecutor’s spokesman Gerhard Jarosch said wanted individuals have been sent to the U.S.
Jarosch said the U.S. sent no arrest request, and Austrian Justice Ministry spokesman Paul Hefelle said authorities did not detain Polanski while he was in the country because he was not wanted domestically.
Still, U.S. officials expressed stronger confidence in the Swiss justice system.
“Generally, Switzerland does not release fugitives sought for extradition,” a Sept. 25 e-mail states.
Later, on Oct. 5, nine days into Polanski’s imprisonment, another e-mail states that the Swiss government had assured U.S. officials that Polanski would probably be sent back to Los Angeles to face justice after the U.S. submits its formal extradition request. The U.S. has until Nov. 26 to do so.
“While the Swiss officials cannot speak for the judge, the extradition will likely be ordered based upon the facts submitted in our papers,” according to the e-mail, relaying a conversation between Washington and Bern.
Polanski, who won a 2003 directing Oscar in absentia for “The Pianist,” was accused of raping the 13-year-old girl after plying her with champagne and a Quaalude pill during a modeling shoot in 1977. He was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy.
Polanski 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. Polanski was released after 42 days by an evaluator but the judge said he was going to send him back to serve the remainder of the 90 days. Polanski then fled the country on Feb. 1, 1978, the day he was to be sentenced.
A French native who moved to Poland as a child, Polanski has lived in France since fleeing the United States. France does not extradite its citizens.
On Wednesday, Polanski’s lawyers split on strategies, with one suggesting for the first time that Polanski might voluntarily return to the U.S. to face justice in California after 31 years as a fugitive.
The new approach emerged after a Swiss court dealt the 76-year-old filmmaker a major setback on Tuesday by rejecting his appeal to be freed from jail because of the high risk he would flee again. Polanski, who has until Oct. 29 to appeal that decision, faces lengthy detention if he is unsuccessful and continues to fight extradition.
“If the proceedings drag on, it’s not completely impossible that Roman Polanski might decide to go explain himself in the United States, where there are arguments in his favor,” one of his lawyers, Georges Kiejman, told Europe 1 radio.
But another Paris-based lawyer for Polanski said there had been no change in strategy.
“We continue to fight extradition, and for him to be free,” Herve Temime told the AP.