Accepting a lifetime achievement award may have been the blunder of a lifetime for director Roman Polanski. Relatively speaking, of course.
Upon arriving in Switzerland to receive an honorary award at the Zurich Film Festival, the 76-year-old director was taken into custody by local authorities on a U.S. warrant related to his 1977 statutory rape conviction, and is in custody at the Swiss Justice Ministry while plans take shape for an extradition hearing.
"We were unaware of any extradition being sought and separate counsel will be retained for those proceedings," Polanski attorneys Bart Dalton, Doug Dalton and Chad Hummel said in a statement.
Officials in Polanski's native Poland and adopted homeland of France have both called on the U.S. to grant him clemency.
So far, however, Swiss officials say they will not release Polanski, until the extradition process is complete (or has been firmly denied). The Chinatown director fled the United States in 1978 before he could be sentenced for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in California.
Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful intercourse with a minor and was told he would be credited for time served and avoid further jail time. Apparently fearing the judge would renege on the plea bargain, he fled the country in 1978 and has technically been a fugitive from justice ever since.
Polanksi's camp filed a motion this year to have the decades-old case dismissed, a motion that his now fortysomething victim supported, but L.A. Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza insisted Polanksi appear in person to make his case. The filmmaker said he had no plans to return to these shores, ever.
Switzerland has a limited extradition treaty with the U.S., so...we'll see.
L.A. District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said that her office learned of Polanski's travel plans last week and alerted Swiss authorities, who picked him up at the airport.
(Originally published Sept. 27, 2009, at 9:16 a.m. PT)
See other famous folks who have fallen on the wrong side of the law in our Mug-Shot Mania gallery.