Tue, Sep 29, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Polanski’s lawyers vow to fight US extradition

FILM WORLD SHOCKED A petition signed by film industry bigwigs like Wong Kar Wai and Costa Gavras voiced dismay at the 76-year-old filmmaker’s arrest

AFP , PARIS AND ZURICH, SWITZERLAND

A man holds a card reading “Free Polanski” outside the Zurich Film Festival on Sunday. Film director Roman Polanski was arrested on Saturday by Swiss police.

PHOTO: EPA

Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski has refused to be extradited from Switzerland to the US over a 1977 underage sex case in Los Angeles, the filmmaker’s lawyer said yesterday.

“He has refused the request from the United States for his extradition,” said a statement issued by the 76-year-old director’s lawyer Herve Temime, two days after he was detained in Switzerland on a US warrant.

The detention of the Polish-French director as he arrived to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich film festival has turned into an international controversy for Switzerland.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called the arrest “sinister.”

One Swiss newspaper said the country should be “ashamed” of the “trap” it laid for the Oscar-winning director of Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist.

Polanski, who pleaded guilty three decades ago to having sex with a 13-year-old girl, has been held since Saturday.

The Swiss Justice Ministry said it was now waiting for a US extradition request.

“We will be demanding that he be freed. Then we will fight the extradition,” Temine told France’s Le Figaro daily.

“Humanly, it seems to me unbearable that more than 30 years after the incident a man of 76 who obviously poses no danger to society and whose artistic and personal reputation are clearly established, should spend a single day in prison,” he said.

Polanski fled the US in 1978 before sentencing on a charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. He has never returned, even missing the Oscar award for The Pianist in 2003.

Temine said Polanski visits Switzerland often and owns a chalet in Gstaad.

“To the best of my knowledge, the United States is the only country he abstains from visiting,” he said.

A Swiss justice ministry spokesman said Polanski was being held under an international request issued by the USs in 2005.

As Polanski can appeal against any extradition decision, a final decision could take weeks or months, legal experts said.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, said moves to detain the director were set in motion last week.

“It wasn’t a big secret that he was going to be in Zurich,” Gibbons said. “They had announced he was going on the Internet.”

Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Wildmer-Schlumpf said her country had to act on the US request and there was no political “pressure” involved.

There was “no other solution” but to arrest Polanski, she said.

But France and Poland have expressed indignation over the arrest. Kouchner said he was working with Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski to help Polanski and that they had jointly written to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ask for the charges to be dropped.

“This affair is frankly a bit sinister. Here is a man of such talent, recognized worldwide, recognised especially in the country where he was arrested. This is not nice at all,” Kouchner told France-Inter.

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand has called the arrest of the filmmaker, who lives in Paris, “absolutely horrifying.”

“We know the conditions that this happened in, and while there is a generous America that we like, there is also a side of America which scares and that side has just showed us its face,” Mitterrand said.

A petition signed by filmmakers and actors including Costa Gavras, Wong Kar Wai (王家衛), Monica Bellucci and Fanny Ardant voiced dismay at Polanski’s detention.

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