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Polanski vows to fight extradition

Lawyers for Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski say the 76-year-old will fight his extradition to the US to face child sex charges dating back 30 years.

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The controversial Polish-French filmmaker was arrested at the weekend, as he arrived in Switzerland to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich film festival.

He is wanted in the US for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977. He was convicted of the charges, but fled the country before he could be sentenced

US authorities have been pursuing the director of Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist for many years. The Swiss Justice Ministry said it was now waiting for a US extradition request.

Polanski admitted the charge of having unlawful sex with a minor at the time, but has never returned to America, even missing the Oscar award for The Pianist in 2003.

“His wife and his children were very shocked by the arrest,” his lawyer Herve Temine told France’s Le Figaro daily.

International arrest warrant

“We will be demanding that he be freed. Then we will fight the extradition,” Termine told the newspaper on Monday.

“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.

“Roman Polanski has never stopped travelling throughout the world despite the US arrest warrant,” Temine said, adding that the director owned a chalet in Gstaad and “visits Switzerland very frequently”.

A Swiss justice ministry spokesman said Polanski was being held under a 2005 international alert issued by the US government.

A final extradition decision could only be taken after the judicial process has been “finalised,” the spokesman said, adding that appeals were possible against the arrest warrant as well as any extradition decision.

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

France, Poland in plea for pardon

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

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, confirmed that 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.”

There had been two previous attempts to nab Polanski when he planned visits to countries that have extradition agreements with the US, but each time Polanski apparently learned of the plans and did not travel, Gibbons said.

The Polish and French foreign ministers Radoslaw Sikorski and Bernard Kouchner agreed to make a joint approach to US authorities, Poland’s PAP news agency reported, including for a possible pardon from President Barack Obama.

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand condemned the arrest of the film-maker, who lives in Paris, and said he had discussed the matter with President Nicolas Sarkozy.

‘Free Polanski’ posters

Mitterrand told a press briefing that the arrest was “absolutely horrifying” and the case was “an old story which doesn’t really make any sense”.

A petition signed by film-makers and actors including Costa Gavras, Wong Kar Wai, Monica Bellucci and Fanny Ardant voiced dismay at Polanski’s detention.

“It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary film-makers, is used by the police to apprehend him,” the petition said.

At the festival, posters with “Free Polanski” or “No extradition” were plastered in front of the cinema, with the planned retrospective in Polanski’s honour going ahead albeit without the award ceremony.

In May, a Los Angeles judge refused Polanski’s bid to dismiss the underage sex case after he failed to appear in court.

Questions over judge’s impartiality

Polanski’s legal team argued that the conviction should be annulled because the judge who heard the 1970s case had improperly colluded with prosecutors. The judge has since died.

The woman named as the victim in the 1977 case has joined defence lawyers in urging the dismissal of the case.

Samantha Geimer, now a 45-year-old mother of three, said that Polanski asked her mother if he could photograph her for a fashion magazine at the Hollywood Hills home of Jack Nicholson in March 1977.

Geimer said that after plying her with champagne and drugs and taking nude pictures, Polanski had sex despite her resistance and requests to be taken home.

Born in France of Polish parents, Polanski was raised in Poland and narrowly came through the Holocaust. His mother died in a concentration camp.

He hit the headlines in 1969 when his second wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by members of Charles Manson’s cult gang in Los Angeles. Polanski was out of the country at the time.

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