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Updated: September 28, 2009 20:50 IST

Furore in France over Polanski’s arrest

Vaiju Naravane
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FIle photo of Polish-born film director Roman Polanski
FIle photo of Polish-born film director Roman Polanski

The arrest of filmmaker Roman Polanski on 30-year-old charges of rape, which have since been dropped by the presumed victim, has created a furore in France.

Mr. Polanski was arrested in Zurich by Swiss police, on the basis of a warrant issued in the 1970s by the United States, as he was preparing to attend the Zurich Film Festival to receive an award for his film Oliver Twist.

Mr. Polanski, an award-winning director who gave the world such notable films as Chinatown, The Pianist or Tess of the d’Urbervilles, initially admitted guilt in 1977 and spent a short time in prison. He then fled, took French nationality and has since lived in France, where he is protected from extradition.

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand and several prominent figures from the world of cinema have protested against the arrest of Mr. Polanski. Mr. Mitterrand’s office said the Minister “strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them”. The Minister said President Nicolas Sarkozy was following the case and hoped the matter could be resolved, allowing Mr. Polanski to return to his family.

Mr. Polanski’s lawyer, Georges Kiejman said in a radio interview: “We are going to try to lift the arrest warrant in Zurich ... the [extradition] convention between Switzerland and the United States is not very clear.”

The Swiss Federal Justice Department said the extradition warrant and any final decision could be challenged in court.

Mr. Polanski was arrested this weekend in Zurich after U.S. authorities sought to have him extradited to face sentencing for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977. He now faces a court battle over extradition, and perhaps even a new trial in Los Angeles.

Mr. Polanski was initially arrested in the United States in 1977 and charged with giving drugs and alcohol to a minor and having unlawful sex with her at actor Jack Nicholson’s Hollywood home. Mr. Nicholson was not in the house at the time.

The director maintained the girl was sexually experienced and consented.

Mr. Polanski spent 42 days in prison undergoing psychiatric tests and eventually agreed to plead guilty and receive a sentence of time served. In a 2008 interview, Samantha Geimer, who filed the charges, told Reuters Mr. Polanski should not face any jail time.

“Some form of justice will finally be done,” said Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley. “He received a very, very, very lenient sentence back then, which would never be achievable under today’s laws, and we’ll see what the court wants to do in terms of the sentence and the parameters within the case settlement they had back then.”

Mr. Polanski has avoided countries such as Britain that have extradition treaties with the United States. He has never returned to Los Angeles, where his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by followers of Charles Manson in 1969.

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