Lawyer: Polanski to ask for freedom

French official calls arrest "sinister" -- but Swiss warn verdict may take days

Published September 29, 2009 12:01PM (EDT)

Director Roman Polanski will file a motion Tuesday in a Swiss court asking to be released from custody for possible extradition to the United States for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl, his lawyer said.

Attorney Herve Temime told The Associated Press that Polanski's legal representatives had hoped to hand in all necessary documents to Swiss authorities on Monday. They were unable to do so but Temime said they are now ready.

"It will happen today, perhaps this morning," Temime told The AP by telephone.

Polanski, director of such classic films as "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby," was arrested Saturday as he arrived in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award from a film festival.

Authorities in Los Angeles consider Polanski a convicted felon and fugitive. The director had pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse in 1977 with the underage girl. He was sent to prison for 42 days, but the judge tried to renege on the plea bargain.

On the day of his sentencing in 1978, aware the judge would sentence him to more prison time, Polanski fled to France.

The 76-year-old filmmaker has been the focus of an international tug-of-war, as France and Poland both want him released from prison. Their foreign ministers have pressed U.S. officials all the way up to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the case.

In the southern Swiss city of Bellinzona, the Federal Criminal Court said it had yet to receive an appeal asking for his release. Mascia Gregori Al-Barafi, the court's general-secretary, said she didn't know when the motion might be filed.

Swiss officials, however, have said there will be no rash decisions on the matter. Any verdict on Polanski's release would likely take a few days, and would be subject to immediate appeals from both sides.

In a similar case four years ago involving Russia's former atomic energy minister, an initial order of release was overturned by the Swiss high court and the accused Yevgeny Adamov ended up sitting in prison seven months before his eventual extradition to Russia.

"In most cases the imprisoned person has to remain in detention for the whole process," said Peter Cosandey, a former Zurich prosecutor specializing in questions of international criminal cooperation.

"The chances that he will be exempted from prison are rather small," because Polanski isn't a Swiss citizen or permanent resident and is considered at high risk of fleeing justice.

The Swiss Justice Ministry on Monday did not rule out the possibility that Polanski could be released on bail under very strict conditions that he doesn't flee Switzerland.

Justice spokesman Guido Balmer said such an arrangement is "not entirely excluded" under Swiss law and that Polanski could file a motion on bail. But he said Switzerland's top criminal court would undertake a thorough examination of evidence before deciding on any request, and that would take time.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he hoped Polanski could be quickly freed by the Swiss, calling the apprehension a "bit sinister." He and his Polish counterpart Radek Sikorski wrote to Clinton and called Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey about the case.

"(Polanski was) thrown to the lions," said French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand. "In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face."

Polanski, who has dual French-Polish citizenship, has hired Swiss attorney Lorenz Erni to represent him in Switzerland. Temime, Polanski's French lawyer, said Erni was responsible for filing all motions on behalf of the filmmaker.

Under a 1990 accord between Switzerland and the U.S., Washington has 60 days to submit a formal request for his transfer. The U.S. request for Polanski's transfer must first be examined by the Swiss Justice Ministry, and once approved it can be appealed at a number of courts.

For now, Polanski is living in a Zurich cell where he receives three meals a day and is allowed outside for one hour of daily exercise.

Rebecca de Silva, spokeswoman for the Zurich prison authorities, refused to say exactly where Polanski was being held for security reasons, but said cells are usually single or double occupancy and that each room contains a table, storage compartment, sink, toilet and television.

Family and friends can only see Polanski for an hour each week, but that does not include official visits from lawyers and consular diplomats, de Silva said.

Temime said Monday that Polanski had met with his wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner.

The Justice Ministry has insisted that politics played no role in its arrest order for Polanski, who lives in France but has spent much time at a chalet in the luxury Swiss resort of Gstaad.

Balmer, of the Justice Ministry, said the court theoretically could confine Polanski to his Gstaad chalet, but noted that "up to now there has never been a case of house arrest in such a situation."

The U.S. has had an outstanding warrant on Polanski since 1978, but the Swiss said American authorities have sought the arrest of the director around the world only since 2005.

The arrest was prompted by a request from the U.S. Marshals Southwest Regional Fugitive Task Force, which includes the Los Angeles Police Department. Investigators with the service learned midweek that Polanski would be traveling to Switzerland and sought a provisional arrest warrant. The departments of State and Justice must sign off on those requests and forward them to the proper foreign entity, in this case Swiss justice officials.

Polanski 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.

His victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago identified herself, has joined in Polanski's bid for dismissal, saying she wants the case to be over. She sued Polanski and reached an undisclosed settlement.

Earlier this year, Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza in Los Angeles dismissed Polanski's bid to throw out the case because the director failed to appear in court, but said there was "substantial misconduct" in the handling of the original case.

Espinoza said he reviewed not only legal documents, but also watched the HBO documentary, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," which suggests there was behind-the-scenes manipulations by a now-retired prosecutor not assigned to the case.

A native of France who was taken to Poland by his parents, Polanski escaped Krakow's Jewish ghetto as a child during World War II and lived off the charity of strangers. His mother died at the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp.

Polanski has lived for the past three decades in France, where his career has continued to flourish; he received a directing Oscar in absentia for the 2002 movie "The Pianist." He and Seigner have two children.


Klapper reported from Geneva.

By Bradley S. Klapper

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