Swiss to extradite Polanski?

posted at 10:07 am on September 27, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

More than 30 years after his arrest and trial for statutory rape and sodomy of a 13-year-old girl, director Roman Polanski may have to face the music for his crime and his flight.  Switzerland arrested Polanski on his way to receive an award from the Zurich Film Festival, surprising him and his French collaborators, who have kept Polanski from getting extradited to the US for decades.  They plan to send Polanski back to Los Angeles as soon as the US completes its extradition request (via HA commenter Mr. Joe):

Director Roman Polanski was arrested by Swiss police for possible extradition to the United States for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl, authorities said Sunday.

Polanski was flying in to receive an honorary award at the Zurich Film Festival when he was apprehended Saturday at the airport, the Swiss Justice Ministry said in a statement. It said U.S. authorities have sought the arrest of the 76-year-old around the world since 2005.

“There was a valid arrest request and we knew when he was coming,” ministry spokesman Guido Balmer told The Associated Press. “That’s why he was taken into custody.” …

The Swiss statement said Polanski was officially in “provisional detention for extradition,” but added that he would not be transferred to U.S. authorities until all proceedings are completed. Polanski can contest his detention and any extradition decision in the Swiss courts, it said.

It’s not clear from the AP report whether the Swiss acted on an old outstanding arrest warrant, or whether the US had renewed efforts to arrest Polanski.  If it’s the former, then Barack Obama has a dilemma on his hands.  He gets a lot of support from the Hollywood community, who regularly lionize Polanski as a misunderstood genius.  They have long demanded that the US drop its charges against Polanski and allow him to return freely into the bosom of Hollywood.  Will he demand extradition or have to publicly admit he’s not interested in pursuing Polanski?

If the US renewed the warrant, it seems that Obama has already made the decision — and it would be the right decision, regardless of what the American film industry says.  As Bill Wyman wrote last February in Salon,  Hollywood has tried to sell the statutory rape as some sort of misunderstood love story.  They tried again last year in the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. The reality is that Polanski drugged, raped, and sodomized a 13-year-old girl:

Bad art is supposed to be harmless, but the 2008 film “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” about the notorious child-sex case against the fugitive director, has become an absolute menace. For months, lawyers for the filmmaker have been maneuvering to get the Los Angeles courts to dismiss Polanski’s 1978 conviction, based on supposed judicial misconduct uncovered in the documentary. On Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza ruled that if Polanski, who fled on the eve of his sentencing, in March 1978, wanted to challenge his conviction, he could — by coming back and turning himself in. …

Polanski deserves to have any potential legal folderol investigated, of course. But the fact that Espinoza had to state the obvious is testimony to the ways in which the documentary, and much of the media coverage the director has received in recent months, are bizarrely skewed. The film, which has inexplicably gotten all sorts of praise, whitewashes what Polanski did in blatant and subtle fashion — and recent coverage of the case, in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and elsewhere, has in turn accepted the film’s contentions at face value.

For now, the Los Angeles judge has injected a dose of reality into the debate. But “Wanted and Desired” seems to have inserted into the public consciousness the idea that Polanski, an irrepressible European, had been naughty during a colorful time, and that he has been toyed with by a monstrous legal system. Creepy and disturbing, the film does show us a few of the director’s moral warts. But it leaves the strong impression that Polanski was a wronged man, jerked around by a cartoony, publicity-hungry judge to the point where fleeing was his only viable option. …

Now, that’s one way to portray those two men — and one that Polanski’s current lawyers would prefer. But there’s another way, too: You could show one as a child-sex predator who drugged a 13-year-old girl with quaaludes and champagne; lured her to pose for naked photographs; ignoring her protests, had sex with her; and then anally raped her. …

It’s a drag to include a scene of anal rape of a 13-year-old in your moody documentary about such a Byronic figure, but it’s also fairly relevant.

The victim would now prefer to see the charges dropped, but that doesn’t account for 32 years of fleeing justice.  Polanski still needs to be held accountable for his crimes, at the very least by getting hauled back to an American court to face the process of justice.  He’s no hero; he’s a rapist, and it’s about time that someone make it clear that being a fabulous Hollywood director does not give one a license to commit violent crimes.


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