ZURICH // The director Roman Polanski was arrested by Swiss police for possible extradition to the United States for a 31-year-old arrest warrant, authorities said today. Polanski was flying in to receive an honorary award at the Zurich Film Festival when he was apprehended yesterday at the airport, the Swiss Justice Ministry said in a statement. It said US authorities have sought the arrest of the 76-year-old around the world since 2005 after he pleaded guilty to having unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl in 1977. "There was a valid arrest request and we knew when he was coming," the ministry spokesman Guido Balmer said. "That's why he was taken into custody." Balmer said the US would now be given time to make a formal extradition request. Polanski fled the US in 1978, a year after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with the underage girl.
The director of such classic films as Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby has asked a US appeals court in California to overturn a judges' refusal to throw out his case. He claims misconduct by the now-deceased judge who had arranged a plea bargain and then reneged on it. The Swiss statement said Polanski was officially in "provisional detention for extradition," but added that he would not be transferred to US authorities until all proceedings are completed. Polanski can contest his detention and any extradition decision in the Swiss courts, it said. Polanski has lived in France for the past three decades, where his career has continued to flourish. He received a directing Oscar in absentia for the 2002 movie The Pianist. He was not extradited from France because his crime was not covered under the US's treaties with the country. In France, the culture minister Frederic Mitterrand said he was "dumbfounded" by Polanski's arrest and added that he "strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them".
Mr Mitterrand's ministry said today in a statement that he is in contact with the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, "who is following the case with great attention and shares the minister's hope that the situation can be quickly resolved". Festival organisers said Polanski's detention had caused "shock and dismay," but that they would go ahead with today's planned retrospective of the director's work. The Swiss Directors Association sharply criticised authorities for what it deemed "not only a grotesque farce of justice, but also an immense cultural scandal". *AP