Filmmaker Roman Polanski has been arrested in Switzerland on an arrest warrant issued 31 years ago in connection with a rape charge.
The Academy Award-winning director pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in the United States, but fled the country before he could be sentenced. Authorities in the United States issued a warrant for his arrest in 1978. He was taken into custody on Saturday, Zurich police said. Polanski has lived in France for decades to avoid being arrested if he enters the U.S. He declined to collect his Academy Award for Best Director in person when he won it for “The Pianist” in 2003. He was en route to the Zurich Film Festival, which is holding a tribute to him, when he was arrested by Swiss authorities, the festival said. Polanski was nominated for best director Oscars for “Tess” and “Chinatown,” and for best writing for “Rosemary’s Baby,” which he also directed. “Roman Polanski, who is one of the greatest film directors of all time, would have been honored for his life’s work in Zurich today,” the film festival said in a statement. “However yesterday, on Saturday, he was taken into custody while attempting to enter Switzerland due to a request by U.S. authorities in connection with an arrest warrant from 1978.” Polanski was accused of plying a 13-year-old girl with champagne and a sliver of a quaalude tablet and performing various sex acts, including intercourse, with her during a photo shoot at actor Jack Nicholson’s house.
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Nicholson was not at home, but his girlfriend at the time, actress Anjelica Huston, was. According to a probation report contained in the filing, Huston described the victim as “sullen.” “She appeared to be one of those kind of little chicks between — could be any age up to 25. She did not look like a 13-year-old scared little thing,” Huston said. She added that Polanski did not strike her as the type of man who would force himself on a young girl. “I don’t think he’s a bad man,” she said in the report. “I think he’s an unhappy man.” Polanski pleaded guilty to a single count of having unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. There have been repeated attempts to settle the case over the years, but the sticking point has always been Polanski’s refusal to return to attend hearings. Prosecutors have consistently argued that it would be a miscarriage of justice to allow a man to go free who “drugged and raped a 13-year-old child.” Polanski’s lawyers tried earlier this year to have the charges thrown out, but a Los Angeles judge rejected the request. In doing so, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza left the door open to reconsider his ruling if Polanski shows up in court. Espinoza also appeared to acknowledge problems with the way the 76-year-old director’s case was handled years ago. According to court documents, Polanski, his lawyer and the prosecutor thought they’d worked out a deal that would spare Polanski from prison and let the young victim avoid a public trial. But the original judge in the case, who is now dead, first sent the director to maximum-security prison for 42 days while he underwent psychological testing. Then, on the eve of his sentencing, the judge told attorneys he was inclined to send Polanski back to prison for another 48 days. Polanski fled the United States for France, where he was born. In the February hearing, Espinoza mentioned a documentary film that depicts backroom deals between prosecutors and a media-obsessed judge who was worried his public image would suffer if he didn’t send Polanski to prison. “It’s hard to contest some of the behavior in the documentary was misconduct,” said Espinoza. But he declined to dismiss the case entirely. Legal experts said such a ruling would have been extremely rare. Polanski’s victim is among those calling for the case to be tossed out. Larry Silver, the victim’s lawyer, said he was disappointed in the ruling and that Espinoza “did not get to the merits and consider the clear proof of both judicial and prosecutorial corruption.” He argued in court that had “Mr. Polanski been treated fairly” his client would not still be suffering because of publicity almost 32 years after the crime. Polanski was arrested two days after one of his wife’s killers died. The director’s pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, and four others were butchered by members of the “Manson family” in August 1969. By her own admission, Susan Atkins held the eight-months-pregnant Tate down as she pleaded for mercy, stabbing the 26-year-old actress 16 times. Polanski was filming in Europe at the time. Atkins, 61, died Thursday. She had been suffering from terminal brain cancer.