WARSAW/KRAKOW, Poland (Reuters) - Poland intends to extradite filmmaker Roman Polanski to the United States over a 1977 child sex conviction if the supreme court approves the move, the justice minister said on Wednesday, in a new twist to a decades-long legal battle.
Zbigniew Ziobro, who also serves as Poland's prosecutor general, said on Tuesday he would appeal to the supreme court against an earlier court decision not to extradite the Polish-born Oscar-winning filmmaker.
"If the (supreme court) appeal is upheld, I will give an approving decision," Ziobro told a news conference, adding that he would await the ruling "respectfully".
As justice minister, Ziobro would have the final say on extradition. Polanski, 82, often visits Poland and has an apartment in the southern Polish city of Krakow but he lives mostly in France, so it is unclear how Warsaw would be able to extradite him unless he returned voluntarily.
The United States requested Polanski's extradition from Poland after he made a high-profile appearance in Warsaw in 2014. A Polish court rejected the request last October and the prosecutor's office initially said it would not appeal that decision.
But after the staunchly conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party swept to power after an election last October, it merged the posts of justice minister and prosecutor general, giving it more direct control over prosecution.
Ziobro has been a vocal critic of the court's decision not to extradite Polanski, saying his celebrity status had helped him to escape justice.
Polanski's lawyer Jan Olszewski said the prosecution's statements on the case were "misleading" and aimed at politicizing the case.
"Absolutely, the (prosecution's) aim is to manipulate public opinion," Olszewski told Reuters.
The Polanski case remains an international cause celebre nearly four decades after the crime, with some demanding harsh punishment and others urging that extradition efforts be dropped.
Polanski pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl during a photo shoot in Los Angeles. He served 42 days in jail after a plea bargain but later fled the United States fearing a lengthy jail time if the deal was overruled.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has long insisted that Polanski remains a fugitive and subject to immediate arrest in the United States because he fled the country before sentencing. It says his case cannot be resolved until he returns to California to face justice.
In 2009, he was arrested in Zurich on a U.S. warrant and placed under house arrest. He was freed in 2010 after Swiss authorities decided not to extradite him.
Samantha Geimer, the victim in the case, has made clear she believes Polanski's long exile has been punishment enough.
Writing by Wiktor Szary; Editing by Gareth Jones