Polanski to remain in Swiss custody

Roman Polanski lost the first round yesterday in his battle to avoid extradition to the US for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

Already locked in a Zurich cell for the last dozen days, Polanski learned that he will remain incarcerated for an extended period after the Swiss Justice Ministry rejected his plea to be released from custody.

Swiss authorities said they feared he might leave the country if released. The director of film classics such as Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown has been wanted by US authorities since fleeing sentencing 31 years ago.

"We continue to be of the opinion that there is a high risk of flight," said the ministry spokesman Folco Galli.

He said the threat was too great for the government to accept bail or other security measures in exchange for the release.

Polanski was apprehended on 26 September as he arrived in Zurich to receive an award from a film festival. Authorities in Los Angeles consider him a convicted felon and a fugitive, and Switzerland says that there has been an international warrant out on him since 2005.

Polanski's legal representatives are also appealing to Switzerland's federal criminal court to free the director. Legal experts say that Polanski stands a minimal chance of a speedy release, even if, as his lawyers have suggested, he be held under house arrest in his chalet in the luxury resort of Gstaad.

"In practice, I don't remember any case where a fugitive has been released on bail while awaiting extradition to a foreign country," said a former Zurich prosecutor, Peter Cosandey.