Imprisoned director Roman Polanski should have been warned that he faced an international arrest warrant before he arrived in Switzerland, the country's former justice minister said Friday.
Christoph Blocher said a warning would have been fairer to the 76-year-old filmmaker who was arrested as he arrived for a government-backed festival that invited him to receive an award. He also said it would have been legal.
Polanski was apprehended on an American request for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl. Authorities in Los Angeles consider Polanski a convicted felon and a fugitive, and Switzerland says there has been an international warrant out on him since 2005.
"You don't invite someone when you know he's going to be arrested," said Blocher, a nationalist firebrand who was ousted from the government at the end of 2007 after helping the People's Party become Switzerland's strongest. "You simply don't do that."
Blocher, however, also distanced himself from those who want Polanski freed, and said his criticism was in no way a defense of the director's actions.
Polanski was accused of plying the 13-year-old 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.
The director of "Chinatown," "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Pianist" is currently fighting extradition to the U.S., and his legal team in Switzerland filed a motion earlier this week seeking his release from prison. Legal experts say his chances are slim.
Los Angeles County's top prosecutor said Thursday that his office isn't persecuting Polanski, but is merely trying to resolve a case delayed by the director's flight.
District Attorney Steve Cooley declined to speculate on what sentence his office might seek if and when Polanski is returned to Los Angeles. He also deflected criticism that has been leveled by French officials and some of Hollywood's elite that continuing to press the case against Polanski is vindictive.
Cooley said: "I don't persecute anybody."
Switzerland has also faced pressure to act on behalf of Polanski, particularly from France and Poland, the two countries where Polanski has citizenship. But officials have said they will not bend to political pressure and will treat the case like any other.
Even Blocher said Polanski's case was simple now.
"He traveled here. He is criminally punishable in the U.S. He must be extradited," Blocher said, adding that's why a warning might have been better: "Then we would have been spared this whole mess."
Legal experts disputed Blocher's assessment.
"In Switzerland, people aren't warned that they face an international arrest warrant," said Dieter Jann, a former Zurich prosecutor and expert on international legal assistance. "From a legal perspective, you don't really do this."
Also Friday, French director Jan Kounen withdrew his film "Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky" from the Zurich Film Festival that had invited Polanski.
Kounen said his decision was made to show "solidarity" with Polanski, according to a statement. The festival said the film would be replaced by Robert Schwentke's "The Time Traveler's Wife."