LOS ANGELES – The arrest of Roman Polanski has become an international incident, with France and Poland demanding that the famed film director be released on bail and questioning why he was taken into custody.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office wants Polanski extradited to face charges that he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl 30 years ago.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France-Inter radio that he and Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski asked U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to see that Polanski is released on bail, calling his arrest a “bit sinister.”
French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand was quoted in French media as saying, “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.”
Swiss authorities told the Associated Press that bail has not been ruled out, but the director would have to stay in Switzerland.
Robert Harris, a British novelist who had worked with Polanski, said in a statement that he believed the arrest was “politically motivated.” “I am shocked that any man of 76, whether distinguished or not, should have been treated in such a fashion,” he said.
Polanski’s decision to attend the Zurich Film Festival over the weekend was a major win for a minor event, but it turned into a bigger coup for Los Angeles County authorities who seized the opportunity to arrange the arrest of a Hollywood fugitive.
Polanski’s own attorneys may have helped provoke his arrest by complaining to an appellate court over the summer that Los Angeles prosecutors had never made any real effort to arrest the filmmaker in his three decades as a fugitive, two sources familiar with the case told the Los Angeles Times.
The accusation that the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office was not serious about extraditing Polanski was a small part of two July court filings by the director’s attorney. But it caught the attention of prosecutors and led to his capture in Switzerland Saturday, the sources said.
When the Academy Award-winning director arrived at the Zurich airport Saturday night for a well-publicized appearance, Swiss officials armed with a U.S. arrest warrant took him into custody, touching off extradition proceedings that could return the filmmaker to the United States to face the child sex case he fled in 1978.
The county district attorney’s office, which prosecuted Polanski 32 years ago for the sexual assault and has battled the director in the last year over his attempts to have the controversial case dismissed, initiated the arrest last week when it learned of his travel plans to Zurich.
“It wasn’t any secret. It was on the Internet. They were selling tickets to it,” said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the office. She said prosecutors sent a provisional warrant to U.S. Justice Department officials, who presented it to Swiss authorities.
The arrest stunned Polanski, whose French citizenship protects him from extradition. His attorneys in the U.S. and France said that despite his fugitive status in the United States, the director routinely travels throughout Europe. Festival organizers said they never considered his U.S. legal problems when recruiting him to headline their event.
“There were no concerns whatsoever,” festival spokeswoman Nikki Parker said.