Director Roman Polanski arrested in Switzerland (Roundup)
Sep 27, 2009, 16:55 GMT
A file picture dated 20 October 2005 shows Polish-born film director Roman Polanski. EPA/ALESSANDRO DI MEO
Zurich - Film director Roman Polanski has been arrested in Switzerland under a 31-year-old US arrest warrant and may be extradited to face sex abuse charges, police in Zurich said Sunday.
The 76-year-old director, who has been wanted since 1978 in the US on charges of having sex with a 13-year-old girl, had been due to receive a prize at the Zurich Film Festival.
He was arrested as he arrived at Zurich airport on Saturday evening, when police quickly moved in and pre-empted an official welcoming committee of embarrassed, then angry, festival organisers.
Justice Ministry spokesman Guido Balmer confirmed that Swiss authorities were acting on a US arrest warrant, and said that the ministry was considering if and when to extradite him to the US.
Polanski has been to Switzerland several times before, without the authorities acting on the US warrant. However, Balmer said that 'we knew this time exactly when he was coming.'
Organisers of the Zurich Film Festival expressed outrage at the arrest, and said the prize Polanski was due to receive would certainly be awarded at some point in the future.
The festival would meanwhile go ahead with a 'Tribute to Roman Polanski' retrospective. The action of Swiss authorities was 'not just a grotesque judicial farce, but also a huge cultural scandal.'
Polanski has long been a regular visitor to the Swiss Alpine resort of Gstaad and other parts of the country and even has a holiday home there, according to Swiss media reports.
These speculated that the arrest was in line with Swiss authorities caving in to US pressure, in a way similar to their relaxing what had been hallowed Swiss banking secrecy practices.
Critics were quick to point to a Swiss tendency to hypocrisy and double standards in suddenly enforcing an arrest warrant which technically had long been valid under international agreements, but to which they had long turned a blind eye.
There was no immediate information of where and under what circumstances Swiss police were holding Polanski, who is known for his highly-strung temperament.
In Polanski's native Poland, President Lech Kaczynski and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said they would appeal to US authorities to drop proceedings against Polanski.
The PAP news agency said Sikorski was consideriung a direct appeal to US President Barack Obama to end 'once and for all' the proceedings against the filmmaker.
Poland's film directors' institute had earlier issued an appeal to Kaczynski and Sikorski to intercede with Swiss authorities.
'This is a scandalous situation and incomprehensible over- zealousness,' institute head Jacek Bromski was quoted as saying by Poland's PAP news agency.
A protest, he said, had been joined by, among others, Andrzej Wajda, Janusz Morgenstern and former culture minister Izabella Cywinska.
Polanski fled the US after admitting to having drugged and abused the 13-year-old in the Hollywood mansion of Jack Nicholson in 1977. He has not returned to the US since. He is now a French citizen.
In May, Polanski failed in his attempt to have the charges against him dropped, when the California court insisted he appear in person.
The then-13-year-old victim has long issued a statement publicly forgiving Polanski, who claims misconduct of judicial authorities in the original case.
Polanski, born in Poland, is best known for his work on Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Pianist (2002).