French Offical Denounces Swiss Arrest of Director Roman Polanski

Oscar-winning director was arrested in Switzerland on 1978 U.S. warrant.

September 27, 2009, 11:21 AM

Sept. 27, 2009— -- The French culture minister has denounced the United States for the arrest of director Roman Polanski in Switzerland, saying it is a "terrible thing and very unfair."

"Seeing him alone, imprisoned while he was heading to an event that was due to offer him praise and recognition is awful, he was trapped," French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said at a news conference today. "In the same way there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America, that has just shown its face."

It's taken 31 years for U.S. Department of Justice to catch up with Polanski, 76, who was arrested soon after arriving in Switzerland for the Zurich Film Festival on a U.S. warrant stemmming from the 1977 statutory rape of a 13-year-old American girl.

The Academy Award winner has continued a fruitful career in Europe despite fleeing overseas in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse.

Polanski is known to frequent Switzerland and reportedly owns a chalet there.

Mitterrand said French President Nicholas Sarkozy is paying close attention to the the case and that the French consulate may try to visit with Polanski Monday if they are allowed.

"I'm offering my support to Polanski as a French citizen and as the minister for culture. Justice has been denied to him many times in his life, and beauty is something that he has brought though his films," he said, calling Polanski a "wonderful man" and "one of the greatest directors of all time." "If the world of culture does not offer its support to Polanski, then that would mean there is no more culture in this country."

According to The Associated Press, the Swiss Ministry of Justice released a statement following the arrest that Polanski, a French national, would not be extradited to the United States until the proceedings are completed and that he has the option to contest both his detention and any extradition decision.

Polanski's team of U.S. attorneys -- Douglas Dalton, Bart Dalton and Chad Hummel -- seemed surprised by the arrest.

"An issue related to the Swiss extradition matter is presently being litigated before the California Court of Appeal. We had hoped that this would be determinative of this case," they said in a statement to today. "We were unaware of any extradition being sought and separate counsel will be retained for those proceedings."

Jeff Berg, Polanski's agent with International Creative Management, told today that he would not be issuing a statement at this time and that the matter was in the hands of the director's Swiss lawyers.

Polanski Has Dodged Arrest in the Past

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which is overseeing the case, declined to comment to today.

"We don't comment on matters of extradition, unless and until an individual is on U.S. soil," spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said, citing security concerns.

But the U.S. Marshals confirmed it has been watching Polanski's movements. A provisional arrest warrant was issued after the Marshals and the Los Angeles Police Department learned Polanski would be traveling to Switzerland via Vienna.

Los Angeles District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons told ABC News that this is not the first time Polanski has been in this situation, but he typically hears about a possible arrest ahead of time.

"He hears that he might be arrested if he goes to another country, so he doesn't go," she said, using England as an example.

If and when Polanski is extradited, she said, he will appear in a Los Angeles court. Gibbons said Switzerland is just one of several countries U.S. authorities have worked with to take Polanski into custody.

"We have made requests through diplomatic channels where we've received info that he will be traveling to other countries that have a treaty with the U.S.," she said, calling Polanski a "fugitive." "There has been several times where we have prepared necessary documents with the countries that have treaties with the U.S."

The French foreign ministry released a statement today confirming that Polanski's lawyers were in touch with French authorities shortly after his arrest in Switzerland.

"Our ambassador in Switzerland and our General Consul in Zurich immediately reached out to Swiss authorities in order to have as rapidly as possibly the right to consular visit," the statement read, adding that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has reached out to his Swiss counterpart.

"He emphasized the wish by French authorities that M. Polanski's rights be fully respected and that this case finds rapidly a favourable outcome," the statement read.

Polanski, who has appeared in small, often uncredited roles in his films, rose to fame in the 1960s and '70s as the director of movies such as 1968's "Rosemary's Baby" and 1974's "Chinatown." He was briefly married to actress Sharon Tate, who was murdered, along with the couple's unborn son, in 1969 by a group of Charles Manson followers.

Polanski Had Sex With Teen After 1977 Photo Shoot

After a period of relative quiet in the 1980s and '90s, Polanski burst back on the scene with 2002's "The Pianist," the tale of a Polish Jew trying to survive the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.

The film earned three Oscars including for Best Actor and Best Director, though Polanski, due to the warrant for his arrest if he returned to the United States, was unable to attend the ceremony. He did, however, receive a standing ovation from many audience members when his name was announced.

He was also the subject of a 2008 documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" that explored the frenetic judicial process after he was arrested and the media circus that enveloped the case.

Polanski became involved with the 13-year-old girl, Samantha Geimer, after her mother approved a private photo shoot in hopes of furthering the teen's acting career.

She said he supplied her with champagne and Quaaludes and assaulted her at the then-home of actor Jack Nicholson, who starred in Polanski's "Chinatown." Nicholson's then-girlfriend, Academy Award-winning actress Anjelica Huston, was at the house at the time.

In 2003, Geimar spoke to ABC News and said she wished Polanski would return to the U.S. to end the ordeal for both of them.

"I would love to see him resolve it," Geimer said at the time. "And I think we've always had the position of, you know, the sooner the better."

Geimer said that after Polanski's arrest, she and her mother were blamed for the incident.

"You know after the publicity came out and stuff, I knew it was just as bad for him as it was for me," Geimer told ABC News. "I'm sure if he could I'm sure he'd go back and wouldn't do it again."

Though, for years, Polanski maintained that the encounter was completely consensual, he seemed to change his attitude in a 1994 interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer.

"I know now it was, it was not the right thing to do," he said at the time. "But I was, there was no premeditation, you know, it was something that just happened."

Polanski then fled to Europe after pleading guilty to avoid what would likely have been a lengthy prison sentence.

ABC News' Christophe Schpoliansky and DeeAhna Hernandez contributed to this story.

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