Roman Polanski Will Contest Extradition to United States

Polanski in 1977 outside the court where he admitted to sex with a minor.
Polanski in 1977 outside the court where he admitted to sex with a minor. (By Nick Ut -- Associated Press)
By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

PARIS, Sept. 28 -- Roman Polanski's chief attorney said Monday the imprisoned movie director would fight any attempt by Swiss authorities to extradite him to the United States, setting the stage for an international legal struggle over his fate.

"He is in a fighting mood and determined to defend himself," the Paris-based lawyer, Herve Temime, said in a statement.

European cultural figures, political leaders and show-business personalities rose up in Polanski's defense, insisting that the film director be released because his original criminal charge dates from a 1977 incident. They portrayed the determination of Los Angeles judicial authorities to bring him to trial so many years later as vindictive and a stain on U.S. democracy.

Polanski, 76, a resident of France who is revered in Europe as a luminary of filmmaking, fled the United States 31 years ago on the eve of a sentencing hearing that was part of a plea bargain in which he acknowledged having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in the Los Angeles home of the actor Jack Nicholson. Polanski has been wanted by Los Angeles courts ever since and had long avoided traveling to countries with broad extradition agreements with the United States.

Despite such caution, however, he had crossed regularly into Switzerland over the years without problem. His lawyer said Polanski owns an Alpine chalet at the tony Gstaad ski resort, where he often vacationed with his wife, the French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, and their two children. But Saturday, as he flew into Zurich for a film festival that was to give him a lifetime achievement award, Swiss authorities took him to jail on an international warrant stemming from the Los Angeles courts.

The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, called the arrest "a little sinister" after such a long lapse. The French culture minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, said he was upset to see Polanski "thrown to the lions for an old story that doesn't really make any sense." He said President Nicolas Sarkozy was following the problem closely.

Sarkozy's office made no comment, but the spokesman for his governing coalition,Frédéric Lefevre, said it was "shocking" to think how Los Angeles authorities seem to have waited so long before putting the international mandate in motion and then moving to make the arrest in such a "spectacular" way. Lefevre's deputy, Dominique Paill?, added that it was also shocking to see a country regarded as an example of democracy fail to observe a statute of limitations for such crimes.

"A democracy that does not admit a statute of limitations for unlawful or criminal acts is after all a very peculiar democracy," he added.

The former culture minister, Jack Lang, called the arrest "unimaginable and disproportionate." He added, "I cannot believe that, 20 years after an affair that would be considered in Europe as benefiting from a statute of limitations, Swiss authorities arrested Roman Polanski as he was getting ready to receive a prize."

Irina Bokova, the Bulgarian ambassador to France, who with U.S. backing was elected head of UNESCO last week, joined in the chorus, saying it was "shocking" to see "an intellectual personality known around the world" arrested in such a way.

Fellow filmmakers, including the directors Costa Gavras and Wong Kar-Wai, along with actresses Monica Bellucci and Fanny Ardant, signed a petition in France that called the arrest "inadmissible." It described Polanski as "one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers."

In Poland, the celebrated director Andrzej Wajda and other figures of the cinema world called for Polanski's immediate release. Although born in France, Polanski was taken to Poland as a young child and lived in Krakow's Jewish ghetto during World War II. His mother died at Auschwitz.

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