ZURICH/PARIS (Reuters) - Roman Polanski’s extradition to the United States on a decades-old sex charge could take years to accomplish after the Oscar-winning film director decided on Monday to fight his removal from Europe.
Polanski, 76, who has dual French and Polish citizenship, was arrested on Saturday on a U.S. warrant by authorities in Switzerland, where the “Chinatown” director was set to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival.
“He is in fighting mood and determined to defend himself,” Herve Temime, Polanski’s lawyer, told France Info radio, adding that the movie director was stunned by the arrest because he was a regular visitor to Switzerland.
Temime said he had requested Polanski’s release from a Swiss prison but a Justice Ministry spokesman said it was very unlikely the director could be released on bail.
U.S. judicial sources, who requested anonymity because they were not directly involved in the case, said the complex extradition process could take years if Polanski challenges it. U.S. authorities have up to 60 days to make a firm extradition request, but Polanski can appeal to the Swiss courts.
The filmmaker, who won the best director Oscar for 2002 Holocaust film “The Pianist,” is wanted for fleeing the United States on the eve of his formal sentencing over a 1977 criminal charge of having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl, to whom he also was accused of giving drugs and alcohol.
At the time, Polanski had reached a deal with Los Angeles prosecutors to plead guilty to the sex charge and receive 42 days in prison for psychiatric tests — time that he had already served. But Polanski believed the judge might overrule the plea and sentence him to as much as 50 years in jail.
A Los Angeles County District Attorney spokeswoman did not return calls for comment on Monday.
In the past three decades, questions have arisen about judicial misconduct and the victim, Samantha Geimer, has said Polanski should not face more jail time.
Polanski’s arrest has infuriated authorities in France and brought protests from European filmmakers. But in Hollywood, reaction was more restrained.
Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose company helped distribute the 2008 documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” that highlighted the supposed judicial irregularities, said in a statement: “We are calling every filmmaker we can to help fix this terrible situation.”
But there was silence on Monday from the Directors Guild of America and from many big-name U.S. actors who had worked closely with Polanski in the past.
Jeff Berg, Polanski’s Los Angeles-based film agent and chief executive of International Creative Management, one of Hollywood’s biggest talent agencies, told Reuters that the first priority was to contest the extradition process.
But he said there was “global support from the film community” for Polanski.
“There has been a worldwide outcry from France, Switzerland and Poland and from a vast number of artists in the United States,” Berg said.
In Europe, the Zurich Film Festival jury accused Switzerland of “philistine collusion” with U.S. authorities and wore red badges reading “Free Polanski.”
“We hope today this latest order will be dropped. It is based on a three-decade-old case that is all but dead but for minor technicalities,” said jury president Debra Winger.
Italian actress Monica Bellucci, France’s Fanny Ardant, president of the Cannes film festival Gilles Jacob and Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai issued a petition demanding Polanski’s immediate release.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told French radio he was working with Poland on the matter and had written to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Questions were raised about a U.S. government pardon, but judicial sources said a pardon cannot be issued for people who have never been formally convicted of a crime, which is the case with Polanski because he fled before being sentenced.
During a visit to Paris, Swiss Economy Minister Doris Leuthard said the country had no choice but to enforce the international arrest warrant against the director.
Leuthard rejected suggestions Berne had arrested Polanski to help patch up ties strained by a high-profile U.S. tax case against Swiss bank UBS, which agreed a settlement over charges it helped wealthy Americans stash assets in secret accounts.
“The two things have absolutely no connection,” she said.
Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles and James Mackenzie in Paris; editing by Mohammad Zargham