Page last updated at 19:25 GMT, Sunday, 27 September 2009 20:25 UK

Roman Polanski in Swiss detention

Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski fled to France in 1978

Film director Roman Polanski has been taken into custody in Switzerland and faces extradition to the US for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

Mr Polanski, 76, was detained in Zurich on Saturday as he travelled from France to collect a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival.

He is being held under a 2005 international alert issued by the US.

Mr Polanski has been to Switzerland before, but this time US authorities apparently knew of his trip in advance.

That gave them time to prepare the groundwork for his arrest and send a provisional arrest warrant to Swiss authorities, judicial officials said.

A Swiss spokesman said the US would now have to make a formal extradition request.

The director can contest his detention and any extradition decision in the Swiss courts, he added.

Mr Polanski's lawyer, Georges Kiejman, said he planned to challenge his client's arrest.

"We are going to try to lift the arrest warrant in Zurich," he told France Info radio. "The [extradition] convention between Switzerland and the United States is not very clear."

Mr Polanski fled the US in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with an underage girl.

He was initially indicted on six counts and faced up to life in prison.

In recent years, he has tried to have the rape case dismissed, claiming the original judge, who is now dead, arranged a plea bargain but later reneged.

1977 - Polanski admits unlawful sex with Samantha Geimer, 13, in Los Angeles
1978 - flees to Britain after US arrest warrant is issued
1978 - immediately moves to France where he holds citizenship
1978 - settles in France, where he is protected by France's limited extradition with US
2008 - Polanski's lawyer demands case be dismissed and hearing moved out of LA court
2009 - Polanski's request to have hearing outside LA is denied

Earlier this year, Judge Peter Espinoza agreed there was misconduct by the judge in the original case, but said Mr Polanski must return to the US to apply for dismissal.

Mr Polanski's lawyers said he would not return to the US because he would be immediately arrested as a fugitive.

The victim at the centre of the case, Samantha Geimer, has previously asked for the charges to be dropped, saying the continued publication of details "causes harm to me, my husband and children".

She has also called the court's insistence that Mr Polanski appear in person "a cruel joke".

'Shock and dismay'

The Paris-born Polish filmmaker - who is also a French citizen - has not set foot in the US for more than 30 years.

His Oscar for directing 2002 film The Pianist was collected by Harrison Ford, who had previously starred in his 1988 thriller, Frantic.

France's culture minister said he was "dumbfounded" by Mr Polanski's detention in Switzerland.

Frederic Mitterrand said he "strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them".

He added that French President Nicolas Sarkozy was "following the case with great attention and shares the minister's hope that the situation can be quickly resolved".

The organisers of the Zurich Film Festival said Polanski's detention had caused "shock and dismay", but that they would go ahead with a planned retrospective of the director's work.

A special ceremony is planned for Sunday night "to allow everyone to express their solidarity for Roman Polanski and their admiration for his work", festival managers said in a statement.

Meanwhile, British author Robert Harris - who had been working with Mr Polanski on a film adaptation of his novel The Ghost - said he was taken aback by the weekend's events.

"One of the reasons I'm absolutely shocked and stunned by his arrest is that we have worked together extensively in Switzerland, where he has a home," Harris said.

"If he was such a wanted criminal why did they let him own a house and travel back and forth freely?"

But justice officials in both Switzerland and the US said the difference this time was that a provisional arrest warrant had been sent.

William Sorukas, chief of the US Marshals Service's domestic investigations branch, told the Associated Press that investigators learned about the trip days in advance and were therefore able to prepare for an arrest.

"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," he said.

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