LOS ANGELES — With Roman Polanski under arrest in Switzerland, American prosecutors Monday disputed a claim by the director that they had never tried to nab him after he fled overseas to escape sentencing on charges he had sex with an underage girl.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office said it had multiple contacts with several countries in efforts to arrest the Academy Award-winning filmmaker, including once with Israel as recently as 2007.
Polanski's arrest in Switzerland on Saturday sparked an international outcry from prominent European supporters and drew questions about why American authorities chose to act now even though Polanski has been living and working openly in Europe for decades.
In a statement, authorities challenged recent court filings by Polanski's lawyers that suggested he had not been arrested because doing so could draw attention to alleged misconduct by prosecutors.
"The District Attorney's Office in the 30 years since Mr. Polanski left the jurisdiction, has not once sought to have him extradited," the attorneys wrote in a July filing. "If it had, there would have been a hearing regarding the misconduct in this case."
Jean Rosenbluth, a University of Southern California law professor and a former federal prosecutor, said Polanski's allegations "probably brought him back onto the prosecutor's radar screen. The only way to resolve this is to have Mr. Polanski come back here."
"Prosecutors are people too. If you thumb your nose at them, they might thumb their nose back," she said.
She questioned prosecutors' decision to discuss the steps they took.
"I think it's a lose-lose situation," she said. "When the public sees gaps of years between instances, I don't think the public will feel they were trying that hard."
Polanski's agent, Jeff Berg, said he was aware of no efforts to arrest Polanski before Saturday.
The timing of the director's arrest "certainly appears unusual," Berg said, especially since Polanski spent the summer at his house in Switzerland.
Polanski, who has been shooting "The Ghost" in Germany for the past six months, was in plain sight, Berg added.
"How hard would it be to find someone shooting a major film in a European country?" Berg asked. "He travels with transparency across Europe. It makes no sense."
The director had pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl while photographing her during a modeling session.
He was sent to prison for 42 days but then the judge tried to renege on the plea bargain. On the day of his sentencing in 1978, aware the judge would sentence him to more prison time, Polanski fled to France.
Prosecutors released a list of their efforts to nab Polanski after he left the United States. Those efforts included requesting arrest warrants in England, Thailand, France and Israel since 1978.
Polanski has been the subject of an INTERPOL "red notice" for years, said Chief Inspector Thomas Hession of the U.S. Marshals Service, which has a Los Angeles-based task force that requested the Polanski warrant last week.
The notice tells other countries that the person is wanted for a specific crime, and that the U.S. is willing to seek that person's extradition if the suspect is caught.
Hession said Polanski's arrest came now because authorities had the advance knowledge and the opportunity. He denied any suggestion law enforcement officials passed over similar opportunities in previous years.
"The idea that we have known where he is and we could have gotten him anytime, that just isn't the case," Hession said. "We have to do it legally. We have to know somebody is in that location before we ask that country to do something."
In a February 2005 deposition, Deputy District Attorney Richard Doyle, one of three Los Angeles prosecutors who has handled the director's case, said he believed Polanski knew how to evade arrest.
"He knows where he can go. He knows where he can't go," Doyle said. "He's been a careful man all these years."
On Monday, France and Poland urged Switzerland to free him on bail and pressed U.S. officials all the way up to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Polanski has told Swiss officials that he will contest a U.S. request that he be returned to the United States.
"He was shocked, dumbfounded, but he is in a fighting mood and he is very determined to defend himself," Polanski attorney Herve Temime said in an e-mail.
Temime said Polanski's legal team would try to prove that the American extradition request was illegal and that the Oscar-winning director should be released from Swiss custody.
Berg said he had spoken with Polanski's wife, who said her husband remains strong and optimistic.
"I think he would like to close this chapter," Berg said.
He added that Polanski does not have interest in working in the United States, primarily because his family is in Europe and there are plenty of filmmaking opportunities there.
Polanski seems likely to spend several months in detention while a complicated legal process plays out.
Under a 1990 accord between Switzerland and the United States, Washington has 60 days to submit a formal transfer request, which must first be examined by the Swiss Justice Ministry and can be appealed at a number of courts.
Polanski has asked a California appeals court to overturn a judge's 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.
The director's attorneys also sought to have the case tossed out after the release of the HBO documentary, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," detailed the judge's actions.
If he is returned to Los Angeles, Polanski could continue his fight for dismissal. A Superior Court judge has already stated his belief there was "substantial misconduct" in the handling of the original case, but the effort has been stymied by Polanski's fugitive status.
Polanski could also seek to withdraw his guilty plea, a move that would hamper prosecutors' efforts to continue with the case.
Prosecutors have declined to say what sentence they would seek if Polanski comes before the court.
And Polanski's victim, who is now an adult and married, has asked for the case to be dismissed. She cannot be forced to testify against the director.
"Nothing gets better with age from the perspective of the prosecution," said Robin Sax, a former deputy district attorney in Los Angeles who prosecuted sex crimes. "Time only weakens prosecutions."