Jerzy Dabrowski-KPA/ZUMA Press

The director expected to be awarded, not arrested, at Zurich's film fest

September 28, 2009 10:15 AM

For more than 30 years he has lived as a fugitive from American justice, but director Roman Polanski has finally fallen into a trap he has been careful to elude before.

On Saturday, the Oscar-winning filmmaker – who pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor in California in 1978, but fled the country before sentencing – was arrested on arrival in Switzerland, where he was to receive an award at the Zurich International Film Festival, and where he also has a vacation home.

Since leaving the U.S., Polanski, 76, a citizen of France, has successfully dodged attempts by U.S. authorities to have him arrested by foreign police and returned to California. France, where he lives with his family, is not bound by law to honor U.S. requests for his arrest and Switzerland, which does have an extradition treaty with the U.S., only acts upon specific request.

U.S. Request

According to Guido Balmer, spokesman for the Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police, Polanski was detained this weekend after being notified that he would be entering the country by the U.S. government.

“An arrest like that depends on having the information ahead of time of when the person is in the country,” Balmer tells PEOPLE. “Information came from the U.S. continually. In the current situation, the U.S. Department of Justice made us aware of when he would be here.”

Sandi Gibbons, spokesperson for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, tells it a bit differently. Polanski, she says, was ultimately tripped up by the World Wide Web. “It wasn’t a big secret that he was going to be in Zurich,” Gibbons told reporters. “They had announced it on the Internet.”

‘No Suspicion’

Two previous attempts to arrest Polanski when he traveled to countries that have extradition treaties with the U.S. had failed, Gibbons says, because each time he apparently learned of the plans and canceled his trips.

According to a source close to the director, Polanski “had no suspicion he’d be entrapped” when he flew to Switzerland. Speaking from Zurich, his lawyer, Herve Temime, told French newspapers that he would fight the extradition and work relentlessly to have Polanski released.

“The most surprising aspect is that Mr. Polanski goes to Switzerland several times a year,” Temime said. “He owns a chalet in Gstaad and vacations there three months annually.”

Lengthy Appeal

Upon arrival at Zurich Airport, the director was placed into provisional detention by Swiss police, taken into a holding area and then brought to the airport’s high-security prison area. During processing, he was allowed one phone call. Polanski called actress Emmanuelle Seigner, his wife since l989, in Paris.

“He told her he’d been arrested and that she wasn’t to worry,” one source says. ” ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry,’ he said repeatedly.

It could be two or three months before Polanski arrives in the U.S. if he contests extradition and fails. The U.S. now has 60 days to submit a formal request for Polanski’s extradition. If he actually agrees to be extradited, he could be sent to the U.S. within days.

From the Swiss standpoint, they were simply abiding by a treaty with the U.S. “When Mr. Polanski arrived we had no choice from a legal point of view but to arrest him,” Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf says. “He obviously has the right to appeal – and I think he will do so.”

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