U.S. requests Polanski's extradition

Swiss Justice Department to decide, based on a hearing

BERLIN -- The U.S. has formally asked Switzerland to extradite film director Roman Polanski, who fled California in 1978 before sentencing on a charge of unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl.

The Swiss Justice Department on Friday said it had received the request and would now make a decision on extradition based on a hearing and on information provided by Polanski's legal team. But it is under no time pressure, department spokesman Folco Galli said.

Even if the Swiss agree to extradite, Polanski can appeal the decision to the Swiss Federal Criminal Court and, finally to the Federal Supreme Court. The process could take years.

Polanski's lawyer Herve Temime, who has been his main spokesman in this case, declined comment on Friday.

Polanski's legal team has sent out mixed messages on its strategy. Temime has insisted the Oscar-winning director will fight extradition. But earlier this week, Georges Kiejman, another of Polanski's lawyers, told French radio that, instead of spending years in a Swiss jail, Polanski might voluntarily decide to face justice in the U.S.

The 76-year-old director, who holds dual French and Polish citizenship, was arrested last month as he flew to Switzerland to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival.

Five days before his arrival, Swiss authorities contacted the U.S. Justice Department's Office of International Affairs to ask if the warrant for Polanski's arrest was still active.

A Swiss court this week rejected Polanski's bid to be released on bail, calling the director a flight risk. In its decision, it cited the potential 50-year jail sentence that could await him in America and his attachment to his wife, the French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, and their two children.

The Office of International Affairs had apparently planned to grab Polanski much earlier. According to email messages cited by the Associated Press, the Justice Department was considering asking Austrian authorities to arrest Polanski last December when he was in Vienna attending the local premiere of his musical "Dance of the Vampires," based on his 1967 film of the same name. The Justice Department dropped the idea, fearing there wasn't enough time to properly plan the arrest.