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Poland in new bid to extradite director Roman Polanski

2016-06-01 19:00
Roman Polanski

Warsaw – Poland launched a fresh bid Tuesday to extradite Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski to the United States to face sentencing over a 1977 case of statutory rape.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said he had appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn an October ruling that Polanski should not face extradition, saying no-one should be above the law.

"He is accused of a terrible crime against a child, the rape of a child," Ziobro, who is also prosecutor general, told Polish public radio.

"Were he a teacher, a doctor, a plumber or a painter, I'm sure any country would have extradited him to the United States long ago."

The announcement appears to be part of what the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government, which took office after October elections, touts as a moral revolution in strongly Catholic Poland.

Polanski is still wanted by the United States for sentencing over the 1977 statutory rape of Samantha Gailey after a photo shoot in Los Angeles.

He was arrested after Gailey, now Geimer, accused him of forcing her to have sex after drugging her.

She was 13 at the time. Polanski was 43.

He pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, or statutory rape, avoiding a trial, but then fled the country fearing a hefty sentence.

Ruling by August 

Supreme Court spokesman Krzysztof Michalowski told AFP that a ruling was expected by August, with an exact date for the hearing to be set in June.

Polanski will not be required to show up in court and is free to visit Poland without fear of arrest pending the verdict, he added.

The court can either uphold the decision not to extradite Polanski or send the case back to a lower court.

Jerzy Stachowicz, a lawyer for the 82-year French-Polish director, said Ziobro's decision was not a surprise.

"We were expecting this. Ziobro had previously announced he was going to do this," he said.

He also confirmed that Polanski was currently not in Poland, without disclosing his current whereabouts.

Ziobro's move is an attempt to reverse an October ruling by a court in the southern city of Krakow which ruled that Polanski should not be sent to the United States, a decision prosecutors agreed was "justified".

"Had Poland accepted the US extradition request, it would have violated the rights of Mr Polanski and at the same time the European Convention on Human Rights," judge Dariusz Mazur said at the time.

The Krakow court was fiercely critical of the original US investigation into the film-maker's case, saying the US judges and prosecutors had flouted "the rules of a fair trial".

And one of his lawyers at the time said the decision "ends the legal proceedings" against Polanski.

'Avoid double standards' 

Fearing arrest, Polanski declined to travel to Hollywood in 2003 to receive an Oscar for best director for his harrowing Holocaust-drama, "The Pianist" -- one of his eight Academy Awards.

He currently lives in France with his wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner, but often visits Poland where his family has roots.

Ziobro said he wanted to "avoid double standards" that would afford the director special treatment.

"Everyone is equal before the law," he said, accusing "social elites and part of the liberal media" of supporting Polanski.

"Does this mean that an eminent artist is free to rape or commit other vile crimes, while a simple Kowalski (the Polish equivalent of Smith) must be severely punished?"

Born in Paris in 1933 to Polish Jewish parents, Polanski's family was torn apart by the Holocaust after returning to live in Poland before World War II.

He was eight when the Nazis arrested his parents in Krakow's Jewish ghetto - sending them to concentration camps from which his mother never returned -- and forcing him into years of wandering with other children.

He survived and went on to win acclaim in Hollywood for his 1962 feature debut in Poland, Knife in the Water, an erotic thriller about a couple inviting a switchblade-toting hitchhiker onto their yacht.

He arrived in Hollywood in 1968 to shoot his first big international hit, Rosemary's Baby.

Tragedy shattered Polanski's life again the following year when his heavily-pregnant wife, the model and actress Sharon Tate, and four friends were brutally slaughtered in the director's mansion by cult leader Charles Manson and his followers.

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