The Swiss justice ministry said it opposed bail for Oscar-winning film director Roman Polanski, heating up the legal battle over his arrest in Switzerland on a US warrant for child sex charges.
“Yesterday we asked the Federal Criminal Tribunal in Bellinzona to reject Mr Polanski’s appeal,” a ministry spokesman, Folco Galli, told AFP.
He said that authorities believed there was a “great danger” that the 76- year-old French Polish film-maker would flee pending a full extradition request from the United States on the three-decades-old case against him in California.
Polanski has been regarded as a fugitive by US authorities since he fled the country in 1978 after admitting to having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
But he has been able to travel in Europe in recent years, and his arrest on September 26 upon arriving in Zurich to collect a lifetime achievement award at the Swiss city’s film festival sparked dismay in some parts of the movie world.
The official recommendation is meant to be taken into consideration by Switzerland’s top criminal court in its formal legal ruling on the bail request.
Polanski’s French-led defence team countered in a statement on Tuesday that they would make it clear to the tribunal that Polanski promised not to leave Switzerland during the proceedings.
“Mr Polanski is pledging not to leave Swiss territory during the whole extradition procedure and to respect all the obligations that could be imposed on him to guarantee that pledge,” said Paris-based attorneys Herve Temime and George Kiejman.
Polanski has simultaneously lodged a complaint asking the court to overturn his arrest.
The tribunal in southern Switzerland has yet to indicate when it might rule.
Under an extradition treaty with the United States, prosecutors in California have 40 days from the time of Polanski’s arrest to lodge their full extradition request, which the court will subsequently rule on as well.
Polanski, who is currently believed to be in a jail in Zurich, has the right to appeal at each stage, setting the scene for a lengthy bout of legal jousting.
A Swiss legal expert, Christian Piguet, said that the tribunal acted totally independently from public authorities, but that its decisions were nonetheless unlikely to fall in Polanski’s favour.
“It’s an international warrant, it can’t be opposed,” he explained.
Polanski had “fled for 32 years,” while the border between Switzerland and neighbouring France, where he would be safe from extradition to the United States, was virtually non existent, Piguet pointed out.
Spanish actress Penelope Cruz and Adrien Brody, the US actor who starred in Polanski’s Oscar-winning “The Pianist,” are the latest in a list of some 700 cinema luminaries who have signed a petition calling for his release.
Swiss authorities said they have no option but to allow the courts to decide independently on the recently renewed US request, even though Polanski has reportedly travelled to the country before.
Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner initially wrote to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for Polanski to be freed.
But Clinton told them that the controversial director’s fate was in the hands of the judicial system, Kouchner said later. He acknowledged that “justice is the same for everyone and in this case we cannot take a position.”
Tuesday’s move by Swiss authorities cut through procedural complications following two bail requests lodged by Polanski’s lawyers with the tribunal, as well as with the federal justice office, which executed the US warrant.