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COLOGNE, Germany — Roman Polanski has refused to be extradited from Switzerland to the U.S. over a decades-old underage sex case, the lawyer for the Oscar-winning director of “The Pianist” said Monday.
Polanski’s French lawyer Herve Temime said in a statement that he would ask Swiss authorities to release the 76-year-old director immediately.
“After that, his defense team will demonstrate the illegal nature of the extradition request he is facing,” the statement said.
“He is in a fighting mood and determined to defend himself,” Temime told France Info radio, adding his client was stunned by the arrest as he was a regular visitor to Switzerland, with a chalet at the ski resort of Gstaad. In fact, the director was in Switzerland earlier this summer, editing his upcoming feature “The Ghost.”
“We have begun by requesting his release, which should be done today in principle,” Temime said. “There is no reason in law, or regarding the facts or in terms of the most basic justice to keep Roman Polanski a single day in prison.”
A spokesman for the Swiss Justice Ministry told The Hollywood Reporter that it was now up to the federal Swiss court to decide whether or not to grant bail.
“Swiss rules do not rule it out (release on bail), but it is only granted exceptionally” the spokesman said.
The U.S. authorities have up to 60 days to make a firm extradition request, but Polanski can appeal to the Swiss Federal Penal Court of Justice. A court spokeswoman said Monday that it had not yet received any request on the Polanski case.
Film and political heavyweights — from Harvey Weinstein and Festival de Cannes director Thierry Fremaux to the foreign ministers of France and Poland — have expressed outrage at Polanski’s arrest, which happened Saturday as he arrived in Switzerland to attend the Zurich Film Festival.
The director, who has dual French and Polish citizenship, is being held in connection to a 1977 case involving the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old girl. Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful intercourse with a minor but fled the U.S. in 1978 after a Los Angeles judge indicated he planned to reject a plea agreement and punish Polanski more severely for the crime. Polanski has lived in France for decades to avoid arrest. The 2008 documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” presented new evidence of legal misconduct in the case. Polanski’s lawyers, and the victim, Samantha Geimer, have called on the courts to have the charges thrown out.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called the arrest “a bit sinister” and, together with his Polish counterpart Radoslaw Sikorski has written to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, asking her to intervene. The Polish Filmmakers Assn. also called for the release of Polanski, and has asked U.S. authorities to review the case.
The Zurich Film Festival jury donned red badges reading “Free Polanski” at a news conference Monday and accused Switzerland of “philistine collusion” in arresting Polanski.
“We hope today this latest order will be dropped. It is based on a three-decade-old case that is all but dead but for minor technicalities,” said jury president Debra Winger. “We stand by and wait for his release and his next masterwork.”
Festival de Cannes president Gilles Jacob, Italian star Monica Bellucci and directors Costa-Gavras, Wong Kar Wai and Bertrand Tavernier are among the signatures on a petition demanding Polanski’s immediate release.
Weinstein also lent his support to the cause after being approached by Fremaux. It’s expected the Weinstein Co. boss will head up a Hollywood lobby fighting the extradition.
During a visit to Paris on Monday, Swiss Economy Minister Doris Leuthard defended her country’s actions, saying Switzerland had no choice but to enforce the international arrest warrant against Polanski.
“The Americans strongly believe that the arrest of Mr. Polanski is necessary. That’s for them to decide. Switzerland is simply a state where the police functions and where we treat all people in the same way,” she said at a news conference.
Leuthard rejected suggestions that the arrest was political and aimed at improving ties to the U.S. that have been strained as a result of the high-profile U.S. tax evasion case against Swiss bank UBS.
Rebecca Leffler in Paris and AFP contributed to this report.
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