US formally asks for Polanski extradition

26th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

Swiss authorities say the US on 22 October formally asked Switzerland to return filmmaker Roman Polanski.

Geneva -- The United States has formally asked Switzerland to return filmmaker Roman Polanski over a 1970s child sex case for which he could face up to two years in jail, Swiss authorities said Friday.

"The US embassy in Bern submitted the formal extradition request to the Federal Office of Justice on 22 October 2009, within the deadline of 40 days stipulated under the bilateral extradition treaty," the Swiss Federal Office of Justice said in a statement.

According to the extradition request of "about 60 pages," Polanski "risks a maximum prison sentence of two years," Folco Galli, spokesman for the justice office, told AFP.

Galli added that the US law of 1 July 1977 concerning sexual relations with minors applies to this case.

The US extradition request will be forwarded to the canton of Zurich, where the Franco-Polish director was detained upon his arrival on 26 September to collect an award at the city's film festival.

A local court will then hold a hearing and, "based on the results of the hearing and the information provided by Polanski's lawyer," the justice office will decide if it should accept the extradition request.

"The authorities in Zurich will take charge of the Roman Polanski hearing. They will hold a verbal hearing that would be transmitted to us," Galli said.

If the federal justice office accepted the extradition request, Polanski can appeal against the decision before the country's top criminal court. He will also have a further chance to appeal to the Federal Supreme Court.

Polanski's lawyer Herve Temime said the film director will fight the US request.

"Mr Polanski is not changing course. He will not accept the US extradition request," Temime told AFP.

The director of "Rosemary's Baby", "Chinatown" and "The Pianist" has been regarded as a fugitive by US authorities since he fled the United States in 1978 after admitting to sex with a 13-year-old girl.

Polanski was initially charged with rape and five other felonies before later pleading guilty to a lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.

But he fled the United States before sentencing and has never returned, even missing the Oscar award for "The Pianist" in 2003.

Following his arrest in Switzerland, he asked to be released on bail until extradition, but Switzerland's top criminal court on Tuesday rejected the request, saying there was a "high" risk that he could flee the country.

The 76-year-old filmmaker had offered his property in the luxury Swiss ski resort of Gstaad as bail, according to court documents.

His lawyers also argued that considering his age and his two children who are still in school, Polanski would not risk over half of his assets by giving up bail.

However, Switzerland's federal criminal court assessed that the bail was not in line with requirements set by the law.

Highlighting the high risk of flight, the court noted Polanski's dual French and Polish nationalities.

It pointed out he could travel across the borderless Schengen zone, which includes Switzerland and its neighbours, "without problem and without travel documents."

AFP / Agnes Pedrero / Expatica

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