France condemns 'sinister' arrest of Polanski

Foreign minister demands answers from US as Hollywood stars plead for release of director held over sex with 13-year-old

The fate of the Franco-Polish film director Roman Polanski became an international cause célèbre yesterday as Paris, Warsaw and an extensive cast of figures from world cinema demanded his immediate release from a Swiss jail.

The French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, protested formally to both the US and Swiss authorities against Mr Polanski's arrest in Zurich on Saturday for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in California in 1977. Mr Kouchner described the circumstances of the arrest, on an American warrant, as "a little sinister".

The French and Polish foreign ministers later appealed in writing to the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to intervene and called for Mr Polanski's release on bail. The 76-year-old film director's lawyer, Herve Temime, said that he would fight extradition in the Swiss courts – something that might take up to six months. He added that his client, despite being "stunned" by the arrest, was "in fighting mood and determined to defend himself".

Petitions from leading film directors and other cinema figures, including one signed by the celebrated Polish director, Andrzej Wajda, focused most of their anger on the Swiss authorities. The fact that the Polish-born Mr Polanski was arrested as he arrived to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich film festival was, they said, "a provocation".

A leading French director, Bertrand Tavernier, said: "The Swiss are extraordinary. Here is a law which is supposed to combat drug-trafficking and tax evasion and the first victim they pick on is an artist."

The Swiss Economy Minister, Doris Leuthard, rejected suggestions that the arrest was intended to ease strained relations between Switzerland and the US. An extradition treaty between Washington and Berne obliged Switzerland to act, without question, on any arrest warrant issued by the US authorities, she said. The international outcry on Mr Polanski's behalf implied that there should be a law for ordinary people and another for celebrated film directors, she suggested.

"The Americans strongly believe that the arrest of Mr Polanski is necessary," she said. "That's for them to decide. Switzerland is simply a state where the police functions and where we treat all people in the same way."

Mr Polanski – the award-winning director of Rosemary's Baby, Cul-de-Sac, Chinatown and The Pianist – fled the US in 1978. He had admitted having sex with a 13-year-old at the home of the actor Jack Nicholson but insisted that the girl had consented.

After accepting a plea bargain for a short sentence of "time already served", Mr Polanski became convinced that the court and prosecution in Los Angeles was about to renege on the deal. He fled to France where he has lived ever since. His victim, Samantha Geimer, who reached a civil settlement with Mr Polanski for an undisclosed sum, called last year for the case to be dropped.

The French and Polish governments jointly appealed yesterday for Mr Polanski to be released on bail. The Swiss justice ministry said that this possibility was "not entirely excluded" so long as Mr Polanski promised to remain within Switzerland.

In a radio interview, the French Foreign Minister, Mr Kouchner, said that the Californian and Swiss authorities had acted unreasonably. "It's a little sinister, this business, to be quite frank," Mr Kouchner said. "A man of such talent, recognised throughout the world ... All this is not nice."

The jury of the Zurich film festival – accused of failing to react strongly enough at the weekend – accused the Swiss government of "philistine collusion" with the US.

The jury's president, the American actress Debra Winger, said: "[The arrest] is based on a three-decade-old case that is all but dead but for minor technicalities."

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport