ZURICH, Switzerland — Imprisoned director Roman Polanski is in a “fighting mood” and will battle U.S. attempts to have him extradited from Switzerland to California to face justice for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977, his lawyer said Monday.
An international tug-of-war over the 76-year-old director escalated Monday as France and Poland urged Switzerland to free him on bail and pressed U.S. officials all the way up to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the case.
Polanski was in his third day of detention after Swiss police arrested him Saturday on an international warrant as he arrived in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award from a film festival.
Authorities in Los Angeles consider Polanski a “convicted felon and fugitive.” The director had pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl. He was sent to prison for 42 days but then the judge tried to renege on the plea bargain. On the day of his sentencing in 1978, aware the judge would sentence him to more prison time, Polanski fled to France.
Polanski has told Swiss officials that he will contest a U.S. request that he be transferred to the United States, attorney Herve Temime said in an e-mail. Temime said Polanski’s legal team would try to prove that the U.S. request was illegal and that the Oscar-winning director should be released from Swiss custody.
“Taking into account the extraordinary conditions of his arrest, his Swiss lawyer will seek his freedom without delay,” Temime said.
The lawyer said he was able to speak with Polanski from his Zurich cell and that the director was allowed to meet with his wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner.
“He was shocked, dumbfounded, but he is in a fighting mood and he is very determined to defend himself,” Temime said.
Now a complicated legal process awaits all sides. While France expressed hope that Polanski would be freed shortly, Swiss officials said there would be no rash decision.
The Swiss Justice Ministry on Monday did not rule out the possibility that Polanski, director of such classic films as “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” could be released on bail under very strict conditions that he doesn’t flee Switzerland.
Justice spokesman Guido Balmer said such an arrangement is “not entirely excluded” under Swiss law and that Polanski could file a motion on bail. But he said Switzerland’s top criminal court would undertake a thorough examination of evidence before deciding on any request, and that would take time.
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“This is a legal story,” Balmer told The AP. “There is no room for political pressure.”
French official: Arrest is a ‘bit sinister’
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he hoped Polanski could be quickly freed by the Swiss, calling the apprehension a “bit sinister.” He and his Polish counterpart Radek Sikorski wrote to Clinton and called Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey about the case.
“(Polanski was) thrown to the lions,” said French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand. “In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face.”
Polanski, who has dual French-Polish citizenship, has hired Swiss attorney Lorenz Erni to represent him in Switzerland.
Polanski seems most likely to spend several months in detention, unless he agrees to forgo any challenge to his extradition to the United States. Under a 1990 accord between Switzerland and the U.S., Washington has 60 days to submit a formal request for his transfer. Rulings in a similar dispute four years ago over Russia’s former atomic energy minister Yevgeny Adamov confirmed that subjects should be held in custody throughout the procedure. Adamov’s extradition to Russia took seven months.
The U.S. request for Polanski’s transfer must first be examined by the Swiss Justice Ministry, and once approved it can be appealed at a number of courts.
For now, Polanski is living in a Zurich cell where he receives three meals a day and is allowed outside for one hour of daily exercise.
Rebecca de Silva, spokeswoman for the Zurich prison authorities, refused to say exactly where Polanski was being held for security reasons, but said cells are usually single or double occupancy and that each room contains a table, storage compartment, sink, toilet and television.
The Justice Ministry insisted Sunday that politics played no role in its arrest order for Polanski, who lives in France but has spent much time at a chalet in the luxury Swiss resort of Gstaad. That has led to widespread speculation among his friends and even politicians in Switzerland that the neutral country was coerced by Washington into action.
Temime, Polanski’s lawyer, told the daily Le Parisien that the filmmaker stayed in Gstaad for months this year.
“He came here, but I have no idea how frequently,” said Toni von Gruenigen, deputy mayor of Saarnen, where the famously discreet community is located. “He kept a low profile.”
Balmer, of the Justice Ministry, said the court theoretically could confine Polanski to his Gstaad chalet, but noted that “up to now there has never been a case of house arrest in such a situation.”
The U.S. has had an outstanding warrant on Polanski since 1978, but the Swiss said American authorities have sought the arrest of the director around the world only since 2005.
The arrest was prompted by a request from the U.S. Marshals Southwest Regional Fugitive Task Force, which includes the Los Angeles Police Department. Investigators with the service learned midweek that Polanski would be traveling to Switzerland and sought a provisional arrest warrant. The departments of State and Justice must sign off on those requests and forward them to the proper foreign entity, in this case Swiss justice officials.
William Sorukas, chief of the US Marshals Service domestic investigations branch, said “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.”
The State Department offered no direct comment today on the French and Polish views about extraditing Polanski. Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said he would defer to the Department of Justice and the state of California for comment.
Crowley said the State Department’s role would simply be to review the formal extradition request. The Justice Department reviews international arrest and extradition requests to assure the crimes are covered by treaties with the country where the fugitive is.
Polanski has asked a U.S. appeals court in California to overturn a judges’ refusal to throw out his case. He claims misconduct by the now-deceased judge who had arranged a plea bargain and then reneged on it.
His victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago identified herself, has joined in Polanski’s bid for dismissal, saying she wants the case to be over. She sued Polanski and reached an undisclosed settlement.
Earlier this year, Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza in Los Angeles dismissed Polanski’s bid to throw out the case because the director failed to appear in court, but said there was “substantial misconduct” in the handling of the original case.
Espinoza said he reviewed not only legal documents, but also watched the HBO documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” which suggests there was behind-the-scenes manipulations by a now-retired prosecutor not assigned to the case.
A native of France who was taken to Poland by his parents, Polanski escaped Krakow’s Jewish ghetto as a child during World War II and lived off the charity of strangers. His mother died at the Nazis’ Auschwitz death camp.
Polanski has lived for the past three decades in France, where his career has continued to flourish; he received a directing Oscar in absentia for the 2002 movie “The Pianist.” He and Seigner have two children.
He has avoided traveling to countries likely to extradite him. Balmer said the difference this time was that authorities knew when and where Polanski would arrive.
Balmer also rejected any hint that the arrest was somehow aimed at winning favor with the U.S. after a series of bilateral spats over tax evasion and wealthy Americans stashing money at Swiss banking giant UBS AG.
“There was a valid arrest request and we knew when he was coming. That’s why he was taken into custody,” Balmer told The AP. “There is no link with any other issues.”
The arrest prompted angry criticism Monday from fellow filmmakers and actors across Europe.
“It seems inadmissible ... that an international cultural evening, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by police to apprehend him,” says a petition circulating in France and signed by artists including Pedro Almodovar, Constantin Costa-Gavras, Stephen Frears and Monica Bellucci.
Oscar-winning director Andrzej Wajda and other Polish filmmakers also appealed for Polanski’s immediate release.
“(He has) atoned for the sins of his young years,” Jacek Bromski, head of the Polish Filmmakers Association, told The AP. “He has paid for it by not being able to enter the U.S. and in his professional life he has paid for it by not being able to make films in Hollywood.”
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