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Polanski arrest cues mixed emotions

(Keystone)

Filmmaker Roman Polanski's arrest in Switzerland on Saturday has sparked a debate among politicians, fans and legal experts, leaving many to wonder what happens next.

Polanski's Paris-based lawyer, Hervé Témime, said the filmmaker was in a "fighting mood" and that he would appeal against extradition.

Laurent Moreillon, a law professor at Lausanne University, says chances are slim that the director will not be sent back to the United States on decades-old child-sex charges. But, paradoxically, going before a US court could offer his best shot for freedom.

"He does not have much of a chance here," he told swissinfo.ch. "It would be better for him to accept his extradition and work a plea bargain in the US. That's how I would do it. I don't see any possibility for him to fight it here."

US authorities have 60 days to present a formal extradition request, but Polanski, director of such movies as "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Pianist" can appeal against his arrest before Switzerland's Federal Criminal Court.

In the meantime, the renowned French-Polish director has also hired a Swiss lawyer, who could fight to have Polanski released on bail, a possibility that Swiss justice authorities have not entirely ruled out. The Polish consulate in Switzerland has also asked to see him.

Los Angeles authorities confirmed on Monday they would ask for Polanski's
extradition.

Bern says it acted in accordance with a mandate from the United States, which told them the number of the flight and its time of arrival in Switzerland. A spokesman from the Swiss justice and police ministry said this was standard procedure.

He added that for security reasons, the authorities would not say where he was being held.

Switzerland had signed its current extradition treaty with the US in 1990, and it has been in force since 1997. The treaty contractually binds authorities on both sides to apprehend anyone sought by the other. An international warrant for the filmmaker's arrest was issued in 2005 for the crimes, which are not covered by the US statute of limitations.

"Of course, you can always handle things differently," Moreillon said. "One could have perhaps told Mr Polanski that his presence was not wanted in Switzerland, all the more so because he was coming for a festival. But strictly legally speaking, Switzerland unfortunately didn't have an option."

Question of law

Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said there was no political influence or "any pressure whatsoever" on the part of the Americans to have Polanski apprehended.

Although Polanski has travelled to Switzerland in the past – he has a chalet in Gstaad – this was the first time that Swiss authorities knew exactly when he would be coming onto their soil, she said.

"I can assure you that this was simply a question of law enforcement," the justice minister told Swiss television on Sunday night. "This case happens to concern a very famous person but it doesn't matter how famous you are under Swiss law."

Polanski has stayed for three months this year in Gstaad, it was disclosed.

The Blick newspaper found that "laughable" and alluded to the July 2008 arrest of Hannibal Gaddafi, the son of Libyan ruler Moammar Gaddafi, on charges he beat his servants in a Geneva hotel. In this case the Swiss government has blamed the Geneva authorities "for not allowing Hannibal Gaddafi to get away with abuses", it pointed out.

"The Americans have said the Swiss government has been 'extremely cooperative' and that really hurts," said Blick, adding that Switzerland had allowed a guest to "fall into a mean trap".

In an apparent allusion to the recent UBS tax fraud case in the US, it commented that people are "extremely cooperative" when they want to make up for past errors.

The Basel newspaper, Basler Zeitung, wondered why the Swiss authorities had acted as they had, pointing out that "what was possible for Polanski in Berlin, Cannes, and Venice – accepting awards – doesn't work in Zurich."

"Certainly there were ways to warn him before he came. The Swiss film scene is right to be disgusted and to speak of a 'slap in the face of all cultural artists in Switzerland'."

Run but can't hide

Polanski, 76, had come to Zurich to accept an award for his life's work. The Oscar winner had fled the United States in 1978 on the eve of being sentenced for drugging and having sex with a 13-year-old girl at actor Jack Nicholson's home. He has lived ever since in France, which, like Switzerland, will not extradite its own citizens to the United States.

Polanski's victim, Samantha Geimer, revealed her identity many years ago and has said she would like to see the charges dropped.

French authorities called the arrest "a bit sinister" while some Swiss politicians worried what the affair would do for the country's struggling image.

"This isn't going to improve [it]," said Dick Marty, a centre-right senator from canton Ticino told the Tribune de Genève newspaper. "If I had murdered someone in my country 30 years ago, they couldn't do anything to me today. I don't know what is happening with our government."

Representative Andreas Gross called Polanski's arrest "a capital error".

"You don't arrest someone of such stature on the basis of a warrant [first] issued 30 years ago," Gross said. "Switzerland should apologise. This is shameful."

One swissinfo.ch reader agreed. "Zurich and Switzerland should be ashamed of themselves. They invite him and then this. Even primitive tribes will not kill guests."

But Christophe Darbellay, head of the centre-right Christian Democrats, told the Blick that child-sex charges are "the most terrible thing", and said he himself would send Polanski to the US immediately.

Another reader also applauded the arrest: "This person is... a paedophile. You can run but you cannot hide from the law.

"Keep up the good work Switzerland."

Tim Neville, swissinfo.ch

Legal procedure

The US has up to 60 days to confirm an extradition request for Polanski.

The director, who was taken into custody on Saturday, can appeal against his arrest within ten days at the Federal Criminal Court.

Polanski can also call for his release on bail and even take the case to the highest Swiss court.

He would be handed over to US authorities within days if he agreed to a simplified extradition procedure.

end of infobox

Festival jury statement

Debra Winger, head of the jury for the Zurich Film Festival, read a short statement on Monday:

"This is statement is on behalf of the jury of the international Zurich film festival, not a statement from the festival itself.

The jury of the international Zurich film festival has decided to proceed in honouring films and filmmaking despite the philistine nature of the collusion that has now occurred. We came to honour Roman Polanski as a great artist but under these sudden and arcane circumstances we can only think of him today as a human being uncertain of the year ahead.

His life has always informed his art and it always will. This fledgling festival has been unfairly exploited and whenever this happens the entire art world suffers. We hope today this latest order will be dropped. It is based on a three-decade-old case that is all but dead except for a minor technicality. We stand by and await his release and his next masterwork."

end of infobox

Roman Polanski

Born Raymond Polanski to Polish-Jewish parents on August 18, 1933, he spent the first three years of his life in Paris before the family returned to Poland.

He escaped from the Jewish ghetto in Krakow in 1940 as the Germans sealed it off. His mother later died in an Auschwitz gas chamber.

His first full-length feature film after graduation, Knife in the Water, won a number of awards.

In 1969, Polanski's pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, and six others were brutally murdered by followers of cult leader Charles Manson.

Polanski won a best director Oscar for The Pianist in 2003 as well as the Cannes film festival's coveted Palme d'Or for the same film the year before.

end of infobox


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