Director Roman Polanski was arrested by Swiss police as he flew in for the Zurich Film Festival and faces possible extradition to the United States for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl, authorities said Sunday.
Polanski was scheduled to receive an honorary award at the festival when he was apprehended Saturday at the airport, the Swiss Justice Ministry said in a statement. It said U.S. authorities have sought the arrest of the 76-year-old director around the world since 2005.
“There was a valid arrest request and we knew when he was coming,” ministry spokesman Guido Balmer told The Associated Press. “That’s why he was taken into custody.”
Balmer said the U.S.would now have to make a formal extradition request.
He declined to explain why Polanski was never previously arrested in Switzerland, where he has often traveled or stayed. A 1996 interview with Canada’s Menz magazine describes Polanski’s visits to the luxury resort of Gstaad, where he regularly came to ski, attend festivals or escape from media pressure.
Polanski fled the U.S. in 1978, a year after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with the underage girl. The director of such classic films as “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby” has asked a U.S. appeals court in California to overturn a judges’ refusal to throw out his case. He claims misconduct by the now-deceased judge who had arranged a plea bargain and then reneged on it.
Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza had dismissed his bid to throw out the case because the director failed to appear in court to press his request.
The Swiss statement said Polanski was in “provisional detention for extradition,” but added he would not be transferred to U.S. authorities until all proceedings are completed. Polanski can contest his detention and any extradition decision in the Swiss courts, it said.
Polanski has lived for the past three decades in France, where his career has continued to flourish, and he received a directing Oscar in absentia for the 2002 movie “The Pianist.” He is married to French actress Emanuelle Seigner, with whom he has two children.
Polanski has not been extradited from France because his crime reportedly was not covered under treaties between the United States and France.
He has avoided traveling to countries likely to extradite him. For instance, he testified by video link from Paris in a 2005 libel trial in London against Vanity Fair magazine. He did not want to enter Britain for fear of being arrested.
In Paris, Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said he was"dumbfounded” by Polanski’s arrest, adding that he “strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them.”
Those comments referred to the fact that Polanski, a native of France who was taken to Poland by his parents, escaped Krakow’s Jewish ghetto as a child and lived off the charity of strangers. His mother died at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp.
Mitterrand’s ministry said Sunday that he was in contact with French President Nicolas Sarkozy “who is following the case with great attention and shares the minister’s hope that the situation can be quickly resolved.”
Polanski worked his way into filmmaking in Poland, gaining an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film in 1964 for his “Knife in the Water.” Offered entry to Hollywood, he directed the classic “Rosemary’s Baby” in 1968.
But his life was shattered again in 1969 when his wife, actress Sharon Tate, and four other people were gruesomely murdered by followers of Charles Manson. She was eight months pregnant.
He went on to make another American classic, “Chinatown,” released in 1974.
In 1977, he was accused of raping the teenager while photographing her during a modeling session. The girl said Polanski plied her with champagne and part of a Quaalude pill at Jack Nicholson’s house while the actor was away. She said that, despite her protests, he performed oral sex, intercourse and sodomy on her.
Polanski was allowed to plead guilty to one of six charges, unlawful sexual intercourse, and was sent to prison for 42 days of evaluation.
Lawyers agreed that would be his full sentence, but the judge tried to renege on the plea bargain. Aware the judge would sentence him to more prison time and require his voluntary deportation, Polanski fled to France.
The victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago identified herself publicly, has joined in Polanski’s bid for dismissal, saying she wants the case to be over. She sued Polanski and reached an undisclosed settlement.
Zurich Film Festival organizers said Polanski’s detention had caused “shock and dismay,” but said they would go ahead with Sunday’s planned retrospective of the director’s work.
The Swiss Directors Association sharply criticized authorities for what it deemed “not only a grotesque farce of justice, but also an immense cultural scandal.”