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Roman Polanski Arrest Sparked By Tip From Swiss, According To New Documents

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LOS ANGELES — The arrest of Roman Polanski in his decades-old child sex case was set in motion last month by Swiss authorities, who informed federal officials that the fugitive director was expected in Zurich for a film festival and asked if the U.S. would be submitting a request for his arrest, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

A series of e-mails obtained under a public records request show the Swiss Federal Office of Justice sent an urgent fax and tipped the U.S. Office of International Affairs to the Polanski trip on September 22.

It took little sleuthing to figure out Polanski, the subject of an international law enforcement "Red Notice," would be in Zurich – the film festival had a Web site promoting its upcoming tribute to the "Rosemary's Baby" and "Chinatown" director.

The new details of Polanski's arrest again raise the question of why Switzerland decided to go after Polanski now, even though the 76-year-old director was a frequent visitor to that nation, where he owns an Alpine chalet.

After receiving the tip, federal officials alerted the Los Angeles district attorney's office, which immediately began drafting an arrest warrant. E-mails obtained under a public records request show U.S. authorities learned on Sept. 23 that Polanski was in Austria but officials doubted they could assemble an arrest warrant before Polanski had moved on to Switzerland.

Polanski was arrested Sept. 26 as he arrived in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award. He has been battling extradition ever since and on Tuesday suffered a serious setback when Switzerland's top criminal court rejected his appeal to be released from prison, citing the "high" risk that the director would try to flee again.

Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman with the Dept. of Justice, said she could not comment on any of the events leading up to Switzerland's fax to the U.S.

"We don't comment on matters of extradition unless and until an individual is on U.S. soil," Sweeney said.

District attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said it was not unusual for her office to receive information on fugitives' whereabouts, but she declined to comment further.

Polanski's offers of bail, house arrest and electronic monitoring failed to sway the tribunal. Even his chalet in the luxury resort of Gstaad was brushed aside as insufficient collateral to guard against him fleeing the country.

"The appellant has already once in 1978 eluded American criminal proceedings by traveling to Europe," the Federal Criminal Court said in its 17-page verdict.

Polanski was accused of plying a 13-year-old girl with Champagne and part of a Quaalude pill during a modeling shoot in 1977 and raping her. He was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy.

He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse and fled amid a legal dispute over his sentence.

Polanski has 10 days to appeal the decision on his release to Switzerland's supreme court. He also can continue attempts to persuade the Swiss Justice Ministry to release him. More court proceedings are expected after Washington files its formal extradition request, which it has until Nov. 25 to submit.

Legal experts said no path offered Polanski much hope for a speedy release from jail.

"If someone has already fled once, it makes sense to suspect he might flee again," said Dieter Jann, a former Zurich prosecutor.

It is not clear how much time in jail Polanski faces now, either in Switzerland or in the United States. With appeals, the extradition process in Switzerland could take months. In the United States, Polanski fled before sentencing was complete and is expected to face additional penalties for jumping bail.


Klapper contributed from Geneva. Associated Press writers Alexander G. Higgins and Eliane Engeler also contributed to this report.

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