A French court clears Roman Polanski of defaming a British actor who accused him of rape

A French court has ruled that filmmaker Roman Polanski did not defame a British actor who accused him of raping her as a teenager

Published - May 15, 2024 11:56 am IST

Director Roman Polanski

Director Roman Polanski

A French court acquitted filmmaker Roman Polanski on Tuesday of defaming a British actor whom he accused of lying after she alleged that he sexually assaulted her as a teenager.

The case stems from a 2019 interview with Paris Match magazine where Polanski accused Charlotte Lewis of “a heinous lie” for alleging that he raped her in the 1980s when she was 16.

The Paris court’s ruling did not address the truth of the rape allegation but focused solely on whether the 90-year-old Polanski’s comments in the interview constituted defamation against Lewis. Polanski denied the charges.

British actress Charlotte Lewis arrives for the verdict of her defamation case against filmmaker Roman Polanski, at the courthouse in Paris, France, May 14, 2024

British actress Charlotte Lewis arrives for the verdict of her defamation case against filmmaker Roman Polanski, at the courthouse in Paris, France, May 14, 2024 | Photo Credit: GONZALO FUENTES

Lewis said she felt let down by the verdict and would appeal.

“I feel sad,” she said. “For us, it's not over.”

Polanski was not in court. His lawyer Delphine Meillet phoned him from the courtroom to announce the news, saying: “We won, Roman.”

Speaking afterward to reporters, she said the court recognized his right to challenge people who make accusations against him. She noted that the verdict came on the opening day of the Cannes Film Festival, calling it “a symbolic day.”

“The question that the court answered was whether you could defend yourself publicly when you are accused publicly. The answer is yes. You can challenge accusations, you can cast doubt on accusations,” the lawyer said. “It's a victory for the rights of the defense.”

Polanski, known for classics such as “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Chinatown” and “The Pianist," had also suggested to Paris Match that Lewis was a poor liar and may have falsely accused him out of “frustration.”

Lewis first made public her accusations against Polanski in 2010, alleging that “he sexually abused me in the worst possible way when I was just 16 years old,” referring to a 1983 incident in Paris during a casting session for his film “Pirates.”

When her defamation suit was heard in Paris in March, Lewis testified that she didn't file suit for rape against Polanski in 2010 because too much time had passed for her allegations to be heard, the court noted Tuesday in a summary of its ruling.

The filmmaker has faced several other accusations of sexual assault that allegedly occurred over several decades, including a notable case from 1977 where he was charged with the rape of a 13-year-old in the United States. He pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor but fled to Europe in 1978 before sentencing could take place.

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