Polanski arrested over 1977 underage sex charge

Film director Roman Polanski was arrested on a 1978 US arrest warrant for having sex with a 13-year-old girl, Swiss police confirmed today.

Polanski was flying in to receive an honorary award at the Zurich Film Festival when he was detained late last night at the airport, organisers at the festival said in a statement.

Zurich police spokesman Stefan Oberlin confirmed Polanski's arrest, but refused to provide more details because he said it was a matter for the Swiss Justice Ministry.

Ministry spokesman Guido Balmer declined to comment. Rudolf Wyss, the Justice Ministry deputy director, also declined to comment on the case. But he said that Switzerland and the US have an extradition treaty dating back to the 1950s that is still in force.

The Polish-born director fled the United States in 1978, a year after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl.

The 76-year-old 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.

Polanski has lived for the past three decades in France, where his career has continued to flourish. He received a directing Oscar in absentia for the 2002 movie The Pianist.

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".

A native of France who was taken to Poland by his parents, Polanski escaped Krakow's Jewish ghetto as a child and lived off the charity of strangers. His mother died at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp.

He worked his way into filmmaking in Poland, gaining an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film in 1964 for his Knife in the Water. Offered entry to Hollywood, he directed the classic Rosemary's Baby in 1968.

But his life was shattered again in 1969 when his wife, actress Sharon Tate, and four other people were gruesomely murdered by followers of Charles Manson. She was eight months pregnant.

He went on to make another American classic, Chinatown, released in 1974.

In 1977, he was accused of raping a teenager while photographing her during a modelling session. The girl said Polanski plied her with champagne and part of a Quaalude pill at Jack Nicholson's house while the actor was away. She said that, despite her protests, he performed oral sex, intercourse and sodomy on her.

Polanski was allowed to plead guilty to one of six charges, unlawful sexual intercourse, and was sent to prison for 42 days of evaluation.

Lawyers agreed that would be his full sentence, but the judge tried to renege on the plea bargain. Aware the judge would sentence him to more prison time and require his voluntary deportation, Polanski fled to France.

The now 45-year-old victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago identified herself publicly, has joined in Polanski's bid for dismissal, saying she wants the case to be over. She sued Polanski and reached an undisclosed settlement.