Welcome Home? Roman Polanski May Be Back on American Soil After 31 Years

(AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)
Photo: Roman Polanski.

GENEVA (CBS/AP) Roman Polanski has not set foot in the United States in over 31 years.
PICTURES: Polanski, A Life in Pictures

The 76-year-old filmmaker fled the country after being prosecuted in California for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 and has never returned.

But he may be on American soil again soon.

Polanski's lawyers have split on strategies this week, with one suggesting for the first time that he might voluntarily return to the U.S. to face justice in California for the sex charges.

Until now the position had been that the Oscar-winning director would not surrender to U.S. authorities.

The new approach emerged Wednesday, a day after a Swiss court dealt Polanski a major setback by rejecting his release from jail because of the high risk he would flee again. Polanski, who has until Oct. 29 to appeal the decision, faces lengthy detention if he is unsuccessful in the bail bid and continues to fight extradition.

"If the proceedings drag on, it's not completely impossible that Roman Polanski might decide to go explain himself in the United States, where there are arguments in his favor," one of his lawyers, Georges Kiejman, told Europe 1 radio.

Kiejman could not be reached afterward to elaborate, but fellow Polanski attorney Herve Temime rejected the idea that the director's legal team was now considering waiving extradition. Both lawyers are based in Paris.

Polanski has not set foot in the United States since fleeing sentencing in 1978. He did not even return when he won the Academy Award in 2003 for directing "The Pianist."

(AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
Photo: Roman Polanski seen leaving court on Oct. 25, 1977.
PICTURES: Polanski, A Life in Pictures

"We continue to fight extradition, and for him to be free," Temime told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "There is absolutely no change of strategy."

Beyond challenging the court's Oct. 19 bail denial, his legal team can submit a new proposal, possibly substituting a massive cash guarantee instead of his chalet as security. They have also unsuccessfully proposed some form of house arrest and electronic monitoring as further conditions for his release.

The director of such film classics as "Rosemary's Baby" and "Chinatown" was accused of raping the 13-year-old girl after plying her with champagne and part of a Quaalude pill during a modeling shoot in 1977. He was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy.

Polanski pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse. In exchange, the judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and sentence him to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation. However, he was released after 42 days by an evaluator who deemed him mentally sound and unlikely to offend again.

The judge responded by saying he was going to send Polanski back to jail for the remainder of the 90 days after which he would seek "voluntary deportation." Polanski then fled the country on Feb. 1, 1978, the day he was scheduled to be sentenced to the additional time.

Polanski, a French native who moved to Poland as a child, has lived in France since fleeing the U.S. He was arrested on Sept. 26 as he arrived in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award from a film festival.

Swiss officials tipped the United States about Polanski's visit and set in motion his apprehension, according to documents obtained by the AP. On Wednesday, a top Swiss official defended the move.

Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli said the e-mails, obtained in Los Angeles by the AP under a U.S. public records request, showed that Swiss officials followed proper police procedure when a wanted individual is expected in Switzerland.

"An arrest is a big operation," Galli told the AP. "If we know a wanted individual is coming, we always ask if the arrest warrant is valid."

According to the e-mails, the Swiss ministry sent an urgent fax to the U.S. Office of International Affairs on Sept. 22 stating Polanski was traveling to Zurich. The director was to be feted at a film festival, and Swiss officials wanted to know if the U.S. would be submitting a request for his arrest since he was the subject of an international law enforcement "Red Notice."

"The Americans immediately confirmed that was the case," Galli said.

As a result, Switzerland was required by treaty to apprehend Polanski, he said.

Galli also addressed the nagging question of why authorities decided to go after Polanski now, even though he has been a frequent visitor to Switzerland. Unlike his previous visits, he said, Polanski's appearance this time was widely advertised, with the Zurich Film Festival promoting its upcoming tribute to the director on its Web site.

Several Swiss politicians and commentators have argued that Switzerland may have cooperated too energetically, and that recent U.S.-Swiss troubles over wealthy American tax cheats and Swiss banks may have provided motivation for the arrest.

Photo: Roman Polanski.
PICTURES: Polanski, A Life in Pictures

But Swiss authorities have adamantly rejected that suggestion.

After receiving the tip, U.S. federal officials alerted the Los Angeles district attorney's office, which immediately began drafting an arrest warrant.

Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Department of Justice, said she could not comment on any of the events leading up to Switzerland's fax to the United States.

U.S. district attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said it was not unusual for her office to receive information on fugitives' whereabouts, but she declined to comment further.

Peter Cosandey, a former Zurich prosecutor, described the warrant procedure as normal.

Dieter Jann, another ex-district attorney, agreed.

"It's absolutely normal for countries to exchange tips on wanted people and to invite each other to take action," he said. "If it wasn't Polanski, everyone would think this is right."

American prosecutors also closely monitored Polanski in Austria and considered seeking his arrest there days before his apprehension in Switzerland, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

Los Angeles officials decided against filing a warrant for Polanski's arrest with the Austrian government after questioning how accommodating it would be to an extradition request. They also were concerned about the limited time available before Polanski left the country, according to e-mails obtained by the AP under U.S. public records request.

PICTURES: Polanski, A Life in Pictures

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