Lawyers demand Polanski release as film world rallies

30th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

As leading Hollywood figures rallied to his cause, lawyers for the French-Polish filmmaker asked Swiss authorities to free him on bail pending an expected lengthy legal wrangle over extradition to the United States.

Zurich -- Lawyers for Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski on Tuesday filed a motion for his release from detention in Switzerland over a child sex case in the United States from 32 years ago.

As leading Hollywood figures rallied to his cause, lawyers for the 76-year-old French-Polish filmmaker asked Swiss authorities to free him on bail pending an expected lengthy legal wrangle over extradition to the United States.

"We have filed a bail motion asking for his release, eventually under conditions," said Polanski's French lawyer Herve Temime.

The top Swiss criminal court confirmed that Polanski had earlier lodged a separate court motion -- a formal complaint against his arrest at Zurich airport pending the US extradition request.

The court said it would take weeks to deliberate on that motion but made no comment on the bail demand.

Polanski is seeking his immediate freedom ahead of an expected legal battle to ward off the long-standing warrant issued by prosecutors in Los Angeles.

"We proposed in our (bail) motion that there would be a bond and above all guarantees for the Swiss authorities that he would remain in Switzerland while the case goes on," said Temime.

Polanski, who is regarded as a fugitive in the United States, was arrested on Saturday as he arrived in Zurich to collect a lifetime achievement award at a local film festival.

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said that using an invitation to a film festival to arrest Polanski had "lacked tack" on Switzerland's part.

But, she told journalists, "there's a treaty with the United States and Switzerland respects treaties."

After gaining political support from the French and Polish governments, the acclaimed director of Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby and The Pianist received the backing Tuesday of some 110 film industry figures who signed a petition calling for his release.

They included leading Hollywood figures like Martin Scorcese, Woody Allen, David Lynch, as well as Wim Wenders, Pedro Almodovar, Tilda Swinton and Monica Bellucci.

Swiss authorities say they are waiting for an extradition request from the United States over a 1977 case in which he admitted having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

Los Angeles prosecutors confirmed Monday they would file a warrant seeking Polanski's return to the United States, noting they had 40 days to prepare it.

Polanski's bid for bail is unlikely to succeed, according to legal expert Thomas Fingerhuth.

"Normally a state (concerned with an extradition case) will do its best to meet such a request," he said.

"It is therefore difficult to free someone from detention while awaiting extradition."

However French Foreign Minister Kouchner said he was working with Polish counterpart Radek Sikorski to help Polanski and that they had jointly written to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ask for the charges to be dropped.

But the State Department said it would not wade into the row.

While the French government and cultural elite have strongly supported Polanski, their stance has also triggered unease, with dissenting voices saying he should answer for his crime.

An association defending child rape victims and a handful of dissidents were among those making the case against Polanski, and prominent French film-maker Luc Besson refused to line up behind Hollywood's show of support.

"I have a lot of affection for him, he is a man that I like very much ... but nobody should be above the law," Besson told France's RTL radio.

"I don't know the details of this case, but I think that when you don't show up for trial, you are taking a risk."

Polanski fled the United States in 1978 before sentencing on a charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. He has never returned, even missing the Oscar award for The Pianist in 2003.

Temime said Polanski visits Switzerland often and owns a chalet in Gstaad where he spent three months this year.

He said that Polanski would be prepared to live under house arrest at his Gstaad home if his bail motion was successful.

In May, a Los Angeles judge refused Polanski's bid to dismiss the underage sex case after he failed to appear in court.

Polanski's legal team argued the conviction should be annulled because the judge who heard the 1970s case had improperly colluded with prosecutors. The judge has since died.


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