ZURICH – Director Roman Polanski was arrested by Swiss police as he flew in for the Zurich Film Festival and faces possible extradition to the United States 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 he was apprehended Saturday at the airport, the Swiss Justice Ministry said in a statement. It said U.S. authorities have sought the arrest of the 76-year-old director around the world 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, the director of such classic films as "Chinatown," "Rosemary's Baby," fled the U.S. in 1978, a year after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with the underage girl.
Polanski has asked a U.S. 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.
His 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.
Balmer, the Swiss spokesman, said the U.S. would now have to make a formal extradition request. A U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman in Washington declined to comment on the case Sunday.
Polanski's French lawyer, Georges Kiejman, told France-Inter radio that 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."
Kiejman later told The Associated Press that France does not extradite its citizens and that U.S. authorities had never asked France to prosecute Polanski at home.
Balmer said Polanski's arrest was not influenced by politics, even though the director has often traveled or stayed in the country. A 1996 interview with Canada's Menz magazine describes Polanski's visits to the luxury resort of Gstaad, where he regularly came to ski, attend festivals or escape from media pressure.
The arrest of someone facing an international warrant is "automatic when you know when and at what time the individual is coming," Balmer said. "It's not as if Switzerland is controlling all people on the border. So people can enter and exit freely in most cases."
Switzerland joined Europe's passport-free area in 2008 and ended all passport checks in March on flights to and from the 24 other countries participating in the agreement. Even before then, it rarely closely monitored the identities of travelers from neighboring European countries entering Switzerland.
Balmer flatly rejected that the arrest was somehow aimed at winning favor with the United States after a series of bilateral spats over tax evasion and wealthy Americans stashing money at Swiss banking giant UBS AG.
"There is no link with any other issues in question," he told The AP.
Earlier this year, Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza in Los Angeles dismissed Polanski's bid to throw out the case because the director failed to appear in court to press his request, but said there was "substantial misconduct" in the handling of the original case.
In his ruling, Espinoza said he reviewed not only legal documents, but also watched the HBO documentary, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," which suggests there was behind-the-scenes manipulations by a now-retired prosecutor who was not assigned to the case.
The Swiss statement said Polanski was in "provisional detention for extradition," but added he would not be transferred to U.S. authorities until all proceedings are completed. Polanski can contest his detention and any extradition decision in the Swiss courts, it said.
Polanski has lived for the past three decades in France, where his career has continued to flourish, and he received a directing Oscar in absentia for the 2002 movie "The Pianist." He is married to French actress Emanuelle Seigner, with whom he has two children.
He has avoided traveling to countries likely to extradite him. For instance, he testified by video link from Paris in a 2005 libel trial in London against Vanity Fair magazine. He did not want to enter Britain for fear of being arrested.
Rolf Haferkamp, a spokesman for prosecutors in Duisburg, Germany, declined to comment on why Polanski was not detained or arrested in Germany when he visited in 2008.
In Paris, Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said he was "dumbfounded" by Polanski's arrest, adding that he "strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them."
Those comments referred to the fact that Polanski, a native of France who was taken to Poland by his parents, escaped Krakow's Jewish ghetto as a child during World War II and lived off the charity of strangers. His mother died at the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp.
Mitterrand's office said Sunday that he was in contact with French President Nicolas Sarkozy "who is following the case with great attention and shares the minister's hope that the situation can be quickly resolved."
Polanski 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 in Los Angeles by followers of cult figure Charles Manson. Tate was eight months pregnant at the time.
Polanski went on to make another American classic, "Chinatown," released in 1974.
In 1977, he was accused of raping the teenager while photographing her during a modeling 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.
Zurich Film Festival organizers said Polanski's detention had caused "shock and dismay," but said they would go ahead with Sunday's planned retrospective of the director's work, including "Knife in the Water," "Chinatown" and "The Pianist." The festival runs from Sept. 24 to Oct. 4.
The Swiss Directors Association sharply criticized authorities for what it deemed "not only a grotesque farce of justice, but also an immense cultural scandal."
France's Foreign Ministry said the French ambassador to Switzerland and the consul general in Zurich have contacted Swiss authorities about arranging a consular visit for Polanski.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner spoke to his Swiss counterpart, Micheline Calmy-Rey, to urge that "Polanski's rights be fully respected and that the case would quickly result in a favorable outcome," the statement said.
Klapper contributed from Geneva. Associated Press Writer Angela Doland contributed from Paris.