Filmmaker Roman Polanski's arrest to spark extradition fight

Sun Sep 27, 2009 6:53pm EDT
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By Jason Rhodes

ZURICH/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Director Roman Polanski, whose work on films like "Chinatown" has often been overshadowed by his tumultuous life, was arrested in Zurich on a 1978 U.S. warrant for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

Polanski, 76, was taken into custody after arriving in Switzerland where he was to receive a prize at the Zurich Film Festival on Sunday. His arrest sets up what could be a battle over his extradition to California where he faces sentencing in the 30-year-old case for which he has already pleaded guilty.

But after his plea, Polanski fled the United States because he believed a judge might overrule his agreement and put him in jail for years. And in a 2008 film documentary, new questions about the case arose that may shed new light on it.

Polanski is a French citizen and for years avoided traveling to countries that have U.S. extradition treaties. He has never returned to California or Los Angeles, where in 1969 his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by followers of the notorious Charles Manson.

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand was "stunned" to hear about the arrest, his office said, adding that President Nicolas Sarkozy was following the case and hoped it could be resolved to allow Polanski to return to his family.

"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," Polanski's lawyer, Georges Kiejman, told France Info radio.

Zurich Cantonal Police spokesman Stefan Oberlin said the arrest was carried out on instruction from the Federal Justice Department in Berne. A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney said their office learned last week that Polanski would be in Zurich and prosecutors sent a provisional arrest warrant to Swiss authorities.


<p>File photo of film Director Roman Polanski attending a news conference to present his musical 'Tanz der Vampire' ('Dance of the Vampires') in Berlin October 11, 2006. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/files</p>