ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss authorities rejected an appeal on Tuesday to release from jail Roman Polanski, the film director arrested last month after fleeing the United States in 1978 to avoid sentencing in an underage sex case.
Authorities also urged a Swiss court dealing with his extradition warrant to reject another appeal by Polanski’s lawyers to have him freed and to refuse any request to release the 76-year-old Oscar-winning film director on bail.
Polanski pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 and spent 42 days in prison undergoing psychiatric tests. When released he left the country because he believed a judge would sentence him to up to 50 years behind bars despite a plea agreement for time already served.
“In our view, there is still a very high risk that he will flee and that a release on bail or other measures after a release cannot guarantee Polanski’s presence in the extradition procedure,” Federal Office of Justice spokesman Folco Galli said.
Polanski’s lawyers had appealed to the Federal Office of Justice to reconsider his arrest on a U.S. extradition warrant. They also lodged an appeal with the Swiss Federal Penal Court, which can still decide to release Polanski on bail.
“We rejected Polanski’s appeal (against the extradition arrest warrant) in our answer yesterday to the Federal Penal Court,” Galli said.
Swiss authorities have previously said it was very unlikely Polanski would be released on bail. The justice office had asked the Swiss Penal Court to reject Polanski’s appeal to be released, Galli said.
“This recommendation is disappointing, but doesn’t surprise us. We will wait and see what the judges, the magistrates in independent courts, decide,” Polanski’s lawyer Herve Temime said.
The director, who holds dual French and Polish citizenship, was arrested at the request of the United States when he flew into Switzerland on September 26 to receive a life-time achievement prize at a film festival.
“We wish to tell the Swiss courts that Roman Polanski has promised to stay in Switzerland during this process and respect all the requests made of him,” Temime told reporters.
The filmmaker, who won the best director Oscar for 2002 Holocaust film “The Pianist,” was also accused of giving drugs and alcohol to the girl.
“Regardless of the merits of the underlying case, once a defendant has established a 30-year pattern of flight it is pretty difficult to argue that he will never flee again,” said Robert Mintz, a partner with law firm McCarter & English.
U.S. authorities have up to 60 days to make a firm extradition request, but Polanski can appeal to the Swiss courts. U.S. judicial sources have said the complex extradition process could take years if Polanski challenges it.
Additional reporting by Katie Reid in Zurich and Thierry Leveque in Paris; Editing by Matthew Jones