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French Minister Condemns Polanski's Arrest

The French culture minister reacted with shock and disgust at the arrest of film maker Roman Polanski earlier in the day by Swiss police, when he arrived in Zurich to attend the film festival where
PTI September 28, 2009 6:12 IST
PTI

The French culture minister reacted with shock and disgust at the arrest of film maker Roman Polanski earlier in the day by Swiss police, when he arrived in Zurich to attend the film festival where he was to receive an honorary award.

The Oscar winner now faces possible extradition to the United States for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl, authorities said on Sunday. 

The filmmaker had been due to receive the prize for his life's work at the Zurich Film Festival on Sunday evening, ushering in a retrospective of his film career at the festival.  But he was apprehended on Saturday at the airport, the Swiss Justice Ministry said in a statement. 

It said U.S. authorities have sought the arrest of the 76-year-old director around the world since 2005.

French culture minister Frederic Mitterand said on Sunday Polanski, who is now a French citizen, "does our country honour."

"He has had a difficult life but he has been able to have a family life in France with a wife who loves him and children he has brought up with great care and attention.  And so to see him like that, thrown to the lions, because of ancient history, really doesn't make any sense," Mitterand said in Paris.

He criticized the US for setting a trap for the director.  "Seeing him like that, alone, imprisoned while he was heading to an event that was due to offer him praise and recognition, is awful. He was trapped. In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America, that has just shown its face," Mitterand said. 

The comments came as a Polish news agency reported that Poland and France were planning a joint appeal to try to get Polanski released from his detention in Switzerland and shown clemency by the United States. 

Polanski, the director of such classic films as "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby," fled the US for France in 1978, a year after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with the underage girl.

Polanski has asked a U.S. appeals court in California to overturn a judges' refusal to throw out his case.  He claims misconduct by the now-deceased judge who had arranged a plea bargain and then reneged on it. 

The Swiss statement said Polanski was in "provisional detention for extradition," but added he would not be transferred to US authorities until all proceedings are completed.

Polanski can contest his detention and any extradition decision in the Swiss courts, it said.

The Polish news agency PAP quoted Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski as saying Sunday that he spoke with his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner and they plan to ask Swiss authorities to release Polanski from his arrest and ask the US to offer him clemency.

Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the director will remain in Zurich until the conclusion of the extradition proceedings.  The United States now has 60 days to file a formal request for Polanski's transfer, she said.  A U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman in Washington declined to comment on the case Sunday.

Polanski spent his youth in Poland and has lived for the past three decades in France, where his career has continued to flourish, and he received a directing Oscar in absentia for the 2002 movie "The Pianist".

Polanski has not been extradited from France because his crime reportedly was not covered under treaties between the United States and France.  He has avoided travelling to countries likely to extradite him.

In 1977, he was accused of raping the teenager while photographing her during a modelling session.  The girl said Polanski plied her with champagne and part of a Quaalude pill at Jack Nicholson's house while the actor was away.

She said that, despite her protests, he performed oral sex, intercourse and sodomy on her.  Polanski was allowed to plead guilty to one of six charges, unlawful sexual intercourse, and was sent to prison for 42 days of evaluation.

Lawyers agreed that would be his full sentence, but the judge tried to renege on the plea bargain.  Aware the judge would sentence him to more prison time and require his voluntary deportation, Polanski fled to France. 

The victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago identified herself publicly, has joined in Polanski's bid for dismissal, saying she wants the case to be over.  She sued Polanski and reached an undisclosed settlement.

Polanski, a native of France who was taken to Poland by his parents, escaped Krakow's Jewish ghetto as a child during World War II and lived off the charity of strangers.

His mother died at the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp.  Polanski worked his way into film making in Poland, gaining an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film in 1964 for his "Knife in the Water."

Offered entry to Hollywood, he directed the classic "Rosemary's Baby" in 1968.  But his life was shattered again in 1969 when his wife, actress Sharon Tate, and four other people were gruesomely murdered in Los Angeles by followers of cult figure Charles Manson.

Tate was eight months pregnant at the time.  Zurich Film Festival organisers said on Sunday that Polanski's detention had caused "shock and dismay," but said they would go ahead with Sunday's planned retrospective of the director's work.   AP