ZURICH, SWITZERLAND (WPIX)—Film Director Roman Polanski was arrested at the Zurich Film Festival, and faces possible extradition to the U.S. for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl, authorities said Sunday.
Polanski was scheduled to receive an honorary award at the festival when police caught up with him Saturday at the airport, the Swiss Justice Ministry said in a statement. Authorities around the world have been looking to arrest the 76-year-old since 2005.
"There was a valid arrest request, and we knew when he was coming," ministry spokesman Guido Balmer told The Associated Press. "That's why he was taken into custody."
Polanski is best known for his direction of the classic films "Chinatown," "Rosemary's Baby," and "The Pianist." He fled the U.S. for France in 1978, a year after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with the underage girl. Polanski asked a U.S. Appeals Court to overturn his case, but it refused. He's since claimed misconduct on behalf of the now-deceased judge, who had arranged a plea bargain and then failed to follow through on it.
Earlier this year, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza dismissed Polanski's bid to throw out the case again, because he failed to appear in court. But, Espinoza did admit there was "substantial misconduct" in the handling of his original case.
His victim, Samantha Geimer, came forward and identified herself publicly years ago. She also supported Polanski's request for dismissal, saying she just wanted the case to be over. Geimer sued Polanski and reached an undisclosed settlement.
France -- which does not extradite its citizens -- has never asked U.S. authorities to prosecute Polanski.
Polanski's French lawyer, Georges Kiejman, told France-Inter radio it was "too early to know" if Polanski would be extradited. "The proceedings must take their course," he said Sunday. "For now, we are trying to have the arrest warrant lifted in Zurich."
Balmer said Polanski's arrest was not influenced by politics, even though the director has often traveled in Switzerland. He denies the arrest was aimed at cozying up to the U.S. after a series of spats over tax evasion; it's been uncovered recently, that several wealthy Americans had been stashing money in Swiss banking giant UBS AG to avoid paying taxes.
The U.S. will now have to make a formal extradition request, if authorities want Polanski returned, said Balmer. A U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman in Washington declined Sunday to comment on the case.