Director Roman Polanski was arrested by Swiss police as he flew in for the Zurich Film Festival and faces possible extradition to the United States for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977, authorities said Sunday.
Polanski was scheduled to receive an honorary award at the 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 director 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."
Polanski, the director of such classic films as "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby," fled the U.S. for France in 1978, a year after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with the underage girl.
Polanski has asked a U.S. appeals court in California to overturn a judges' refusal to throw out his case. He claims misconduct by the now-deceased judge who had arranged a plea bargain and then reneged on it.
His victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago identified herself publicly, has joined in Polanski's bid for dismissal, saying she wants the case to be over. She sued Polanski and reached an undisclosed settlement.
Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the director will remain in Zurich until the conclusion of the extradition proceedings. The United States now has 60 days to file a formal request for Polanski's transfer, she said.
A U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman in Washington declined to comment on the case Sunday.
Polanski's French lawyer, Georges Kiejman, told France-Inter radio that it was "too early to know" if Polanski would be extradited.
"The proceedings must take their course," he said Sunday. "For now we are trying to have the arrest warrant lifted in Zurich."
Kiejman later told The Associated Press that France does not extradite its citizens and that U.S. authorities had never asked France to prosecute Polanski at home.
Balmer said Polanski's arrest was not influenced by politics, even though the director has often traveled or stayed in the country. Novelist Robert Harris, whose book "Ghost" is being made into a movie by the director, told Britain's Press Association that Polanski owns a house in Gstaad, which he has visited regularly while filming in Germany, and that there was never any warning he faced arrest.
In the Swiss capital of Bern, Widmer-Schlumpf told reporters that Switzerland had only one legal option for dealing with Polanski's visit, and rejected the idea that there was any U.S. pressure in ordering the arrest.
"I know his films, they impressed me very much," she said, but she underlined that Polanski could not be given special treatment because of his artistic talent, especially because the warrant was not for a trivial complaint.
"This is just the latest example of extraordinary collaboration between U.S. and Swiss officials," said CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen said. "Just a few weeks ago the Feds announced a deal with the Swiss government over secret bank accounts and the U.S. citizens who hold them and have not paid taxes.
"With a high society lifestyle and plenty of visibility, Polanski made it easy for federal authorities and the Swiss to work out this arrangement," said Cohen. "The Feds argue he's a fugitive from justice no matter what confusion may surround the original rape charge. He'll say he has rights in Switzerland that preclude his extradition."
Switzerland joined Europe's passport-free area in 2008 and ended all passport checks in March on flights to and from the 24 other countries participating in the agreement. Even before then, it rarely closely monitored the identities of travelers from neighboring European countries entering Switzerland.
Balmer also rejected that the arrest was somehow aimed at winning favor with the U.S. after a series of bilateral spats over tax evasion and wealthy Americans stashing money at Swiss banking giant UBS AG.
"There is no link with any other issues in question," he told The AP.
"Although it's likely that he'll be extradited to the States it's not a foregone conclusion, and likely will take some time if he decides to fight it," said Cohen. "And even if he is brought back here, there is no guarantee he'll serve a lengthy prison term. He's got several half-decent defenses to offer on appeal."
Investigators in the U.S. learned of Polanski's planned trip days ago, giving them enough time to lay the groundwork for an arrest, said William Sorukas, chief of the U.S. Marshals Service's domestic investigations branch.
"There have been other times through the years when we have learned of his potential travel but either those efforts fell through or he didn't make the trip," Sorukas told the AP.
Earlier this year, Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza in Los Angeles dismissed Polanski's bid to throw out the case because the director failed to appear in court to press his request, but said there was "substantial misconduct" in the handling of the original case.
In his ruling, Espinoza said he reviewed not only legal documents, but also watched the HBO documentary, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," which suggests there was behind-the-scenes manipulations by a now-retired prosecutor who was not assigned to the case.
Documentary: "Roman Polanski: Wanted & Desired"
Polanski has lived for the past three decades in France, where his career has continued to flourish; he received a directing Oscar in absentia for the 2002 movie "The Pianist." He is married to French actress Emanuelle Seigner, with whom he has two children.
He has avoided traveling to countries likely to extradite him. For instance, he testified by video link from Paris in a 2005 libel trial in London against Vanity Fair magazine. He did not want to enter Britain for fear of being arrested.
Rolf Haferkamp, a spokesman for prosecutors in Duisburg, Germany, declined to comment on why Polanski was not detained or arrested in Germany when he visited in 2008.
In Paris, Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said that he was in contact with French President Nicolas Sarkozy "who is following the case with great attention and shares the minister's hope that the situation can be quickly resolved."
Mitterrand added that he was "dumbfounded" by Polanski's arrest, adding that he "strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them."
Those comments referred, in part, to the fact that Polanski, a native of France who was taken to Poland by his parents, escaped Krakow's Jewish ghetto as a child during World War II and lived off the charity of strangers. His mother died at the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp.
Polanski worked his way into filmmaking in Poland, gaining an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film in 1964 for his "Knife in the Water." Offered entry to Hollywood, he directed the classic "Rosemary's Baby" in 1968.
But his life was shattered again in 1969 when his wife, actress Sharon Tate, and four other people were gruesomely murdered in Los Angeles by followers of cult figure Charles Manson. Tate was eight months pregnant at the time.
Polanski went on to make another American classic, "Chinatown," released in 1974.
In 1977, he was accused of raping the teenager while photographing her during a modeling session. The girl said Polanski plied her with champagne and part of a Quaalude pill at Jack Nicholson's house while the actor was away. She said that, despite her protests, he performed oral sex, intercourse and sodomy on her.
Polanski was allowed to plead guilty to one of six charges, unlawful sexual intercourse, and was sent to prison for 42 days of evaluation.
Lawyers agreed that would be his full sentence, but the judge tried to renege on the plea bargain. Aware the judge would sentence him to more prison time and require his voluntary deportation, Polanski fled.
Zurich Film Festival organizers said Polanski's detention had caused "shock and dismay," but said they would go ahead with Sunday's planned retrospective of the director's work, including "Knife in the Water," "Chinatown" and "The Pianist." The festival runs from Sept. 24 to Oct. 4.
Zurich Film Festival
The Swiss Directors Association sharply criticized authorities for what it deemed "not only a grotesque farce of justice, but also an immense cultural scandal."
France's Foreign Ministry said the French ambassador to Switzerland and the consul general in Zurich have contacted Swiss authorities about arranging a consular visit for Polanski.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner spoke to his Swiss counterpart, Micheline Calmy-Rey, to urge that "Polanski's rights be fully respected and that the case would quickly result in a favorable outcome," the statement said.