French minister doubts U.S. fairness to Roman Polanski

Thu Oct 1, 2009 8:39am EDT
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By Estelle Shirbon

PARIS (Reuters) - France's Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand questioned on Thursday whether film director Roman Polanski would get a fair hearing from the U.S. justice system, which is seeking his extradition on a 32-year-old sex case.

The "Chinatown" director, 76, was arrested in Switzerland on Sunday at the request of the United States for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977. He had fled the United States on the eve of his sentencing in 1978, fearing a 50-year jail term.

"There are concerns over the absolutely incredible media lynching to which Roman Polanski was subjected 30 years ago," Mitterrand told a news conference in Paris.

"The manner in which the (legal) proceedings took place also raises a certain number of questions, to say the least," he said, referring to a debate stirred up by a 2008 documentary that suggested there had been judicial misconduct.

Mitterrand's comments are unlikely to go down well across the Atlantic after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday it was for judges to handle the case, dismissing a request from Paris that she intervene on Polanski's behalf.

After Sunday's arrest, Mitterrand immediately rushed to defend Polanski, who has dual French and Polish citizenship, accusing the United States of showing a "frightening" face by going after the Oscar-winning director after so long.

His comments, and similar remarks by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, drew widespread criticism that Polanski's achievements in film were no excuse and that the ministers were too hasty in demanding his release.

The French government changed its tone on Wednesday, describing the charge against the director as serious and stressing that Polanski was not above the law.   Continued...

<p>Director Roman Polanski reacts during a news conference to present his musical 'Tanz der Vampire' ('Dance of the Vampires') in Oberhausen, September 29, 2008. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender</p>