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The Warsaw Voice » Society » October 14, 2009
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Polanski Faces Extradition Bid
October 14, 2009 By W.¯.    
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Roman Polanski, the world-famous Polish-born film director arrested in Switzerland for a crime committed in the United States 32 years ago, faces a bid to extradite and try him in the U.S. state of California.

Meanwhile, political and cultural leaders in Poland and other countries are waging a heated debate over what should happen to the 76-year-old director.

Polanski was arrested by Swiss police at Zürich Airport Sept. 26 in connection with his outstanding 1978 U.S. arrest warrant and has been in detention pending extradition proceedings. He had arrived in Switzerland to collect an award at a local film festival.

In 1977, Polanski was charged in California and pleaded guilty to having sex with a minor, a crime that is considered statutory rape in that U.S. state. He had sex with 13-year-old Samantha Gailey in the home of actor Jack Nicholson in Los Angeles, California. Before the legal proceedings were completed, Polanski fled to France, which had no extradition treaty with the United States. Since then he has never visited the United States, not even to collect an Academy Award for his film The Pianist several years ago.

Polanski is now in a Zürich jail and is being treated in the same way as other detainees, officials say. He is receiving 5 Swiss francs per day as pocket money and is living in a cell with a table, bed, built-in wardrobe, washbasin, toilet and television set. He has also received a tracksuit. His breakfasts are being delivered to the cell and are composed of coffee, bread, butter and jam. Dinners are being served in the canteen. For supper, the detainees get bread and cheese. Polanski has the right to a hour-long walk in the courtyard every day and has sporadic access to a telephone. His wife, French actor Emmanuelle Seigner, is allowed to see him only once a week for an hour. Polish diplomats can contact him freely.

The Swiss justice ministry Oct. 6 rejected Polanski's bail bid. Ministry spokesman Folco Galli said there was a high risk that Polanski could flee if released from custody and that a release on bail could not guarantee Polanski's presence in the extradition procedure. Polanski's request for bail was submitted to the ministry Sept. 29. A separate plea for release was filed that same day with the Federal Criminal Court in the Swiss town of Bellinzona. The ministry sent a letter to the court in Bellinzona explaining why it opposed Polanski's release, even on bail. The court is expected to make a decision on the matter in a few weeks. Polanski may appeal the ministry's and court's decisions.

Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf has said that Swiss police would have arrested Polanski during his earlier visits to Switzerland-under an extradition treaty between Switzerland and the United States-if the authorities had known about his presence in the country.

Switzerland received the warrant for Polanski's arrest from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs.

According to Polanski's lawyers, Douglas Dalton and Chad Hummel, the question of his extradition from Switzerland is now being considered before a California court of appeal. Los Angeles prosecutors have recently published details of the Polanski case dating back to 1977. The report shows that the U.S. justice system had tried on many occasions in the past to have Polanski arrested and extradited from countries such as Britain, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Brazil, Thailand and Israel. But each time Polanski could not be arrested because he had either left the country or because some documents were missing, as was the case in Israel in 2007.

Polanski has dual Polish and French citizenship. Soon after the news of his arrest was disclosed, the French authorities expressed their solidarity with his family and condemned the decision to detain him. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he hoped Polanski's rights would be respected and that the outcome of the case would be favorable to Polanski.

Polish Foreign Minister Rados³aw Sikorski Sept. 28 said he and Kouchner had agreed on the wording of a joint letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

"I think everyone who admires his films, like I do, shares my opinion that a pardon for a sin is possible," Sikorski said. He added he and Kouchner would ask Clinton to "use legal instruments at the disposal of the American authorities" in the case.

But Clinton said Sept. 30 that the issue of Polanski's possible extradition and trial fell outside the competence of the U.S. government but was a matter for the justice system. She added the case should be handled in a standard way.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said on his part that Polanski should be treated like anyone else if he were extradited from Switzerland to stand trial in the United States.

Polish artists and the public are sharply divided in their assessment of the Polanski case. A large part of the filmmaking community protested strongly against his detention, calling it a "scandal."

A petition concerning Polanski was signed by directors Andrzej Wajda, Agnieszka Holland and Krzysztof Zanussi, actor Daniel Olbrychski and others.

In their comments, some filmmakers and actors sharply criticized Polanski's victim, who is now 45, and the U.S. justice system. Speaking about the case, Zanussi said Polanski had used "the services of an underage prostitute." Holland said European legal standards differed considerably from American ones. Olbrychski conceded that Polanski's behavior in 1977 had been disgraceful, but said the tragedy of Polanski's children if they saw their father in handcuffs would be bigger than that of the 13-year-old Gailey.

Other filmmakers and actors, including director Krzysztof Krauze, and musicians Pawe³ Kukiz and Zbigniew Ho³dys, sharply protested against campaigning to defend "someone who has committed such a hideous crime as Polanski." Marek Migalski, a European Parliament deputy affiliated to the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, appealed to Polanski's defenders to stop their "shameful crusade."
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