Polanski may choose extradition

Director may opt to avoid lengthy extradition procedures

BERLIN -- Director Roman Polanski may take his chances before a U.S. court to avoid sitting for months or even years in a Swiss jail awaiting extradition, one of his lawyers said Wednesday.

A Swiss court this week denied bail to the 76-year-old director, who was arrested in Zurich last month on a sex charge dating back to 1977. U.S authorities have until the end of November to request his extradition. If Polanski decides to challenge it, the process could go on for years before he faces justice.

"If the procedure drags on, it is not impossible that Roman Polanski could choose to go and explain himself in the United States, where there are some arguments in his favor," Polanski's lawyer Georges Kiejman told French radio on Wednesday.

In 1977 Polanski pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. He spent 42 days in prison undergoing psychological testing. But the director fled the U.S. in 1978 before sentencing, fearing the judge intended to make an example of him and send him to jail for 50 years.

He has remained in Europe ever since, even declining to travel to L.A. to receive his best director Oscar for the Holocaust drama "The Pianist" in 2003. But Polanski has traveled freely within Europe. He owns a vacation home in Switzerland and has been there several times in the past few years.

On Sept. 21, however, five days before his arrival in Zurich, Swiss authorities sent a fax marked urgent to the Office of International Affairs at the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, asking if the warrant for Polanski's arrest was still valid.

According to Swiss Justice Department spokesman Folco Galli, the U.S. authorities contacted the L.A. district attorney's office, who asked Swiss police to arrest Polanski. Galli describes the chain of events as "routine" and denied accusations that Swiss cooperation with the U.S. was influenced by recent problems concerning Swiss banks sheltering American tax cheats.

Galli said Swiss police hadn't arrested Polanski on his many private visits to Switzerland over the years because they had previously never been certain of when he was coming. Polanski's Sept. 26 trip to Zurich was made public by the Zurich Film Festival, which intended to give him a lifetime achievement award.