Film-maker Polanski questioned over US sex crime warrant

A photo taken on 2013 shows French Polish director Roman Polanski during a press conference for the film Venus in Fur presented in Competition at the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes. -- PHOTO: AFP
A photo taken on 2013 shows French Polish director Roman Polanski during a press conference for the film Venus in Fur presented in Competition at the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes. -- PHOTO: AFP

KRAKOW (Reuters) - Polish prosecutors interviewed film-maker Roman Polanski on Thursday in connection with a United States arrest warrant over a 1977 sex crime conviction, then let him go free saying there were no grounds to hold him.

Polanski plans to shoot a film in Poland next year, and his lawyers have said they were seeking assurances he would not risk arrest under the US warrant, as happened five years ago when he travelled to Switzerland.

His lawyers said the decision by prosecutors in the southern Polish city of Krakow to take no action meant that Polanski, who was born to Polish parents but lives in France, was now free to travel back and forth to Poland.

In an interview from Krakow with Polish television, Polanski declined to answer questions about the legal issues, saying only he hoped the question of whether Poland would extradite him had now been settled "once and for all".

He will come back to Poland for an extended period starting early next year, to work on the film and also to "show Poland, which they barely know, to my growing children," he told the TVN24 broadcaster.

The film-maker, director of classics including Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown, is planning to shoot a film in Krakow about the 19th century Dreyfus affair.

Boguslawa Marcinkowska, spokeswoman for the district prosecutor's office in Krakow, said prosecutors, acting on a request from the US authorities, summoned Polanski for an interview earlier on Thursday.

He presented himself at the prosecutor's office, and complied with a request to provide prosecutors with his contact details and details of his place of residence. "The district prosecutor's office in Krakow took the decision not to carry out a temporary arrest," Marcinkowska said. "The prosecutor also did not apply any other sanctions, such as barring him from leaving the country. If a request concerning his possible extradition should be sent to the Polish prosecutor-general, then only at that point can the next steps be considered."

The film-maker pleaded guilty in 1977 to having unlawful sex with 13-year-old Samantha Geimer during a photoshoot in Los Angeles, fuelled by champagne and drugs.

Polanski served 42 days in jail as part of a 90-day plea bargain. He fled the US the following year, believing the judge hearing his case could overrule the deal and put him in jail for years.

In 2009, Polanski was arrested in the Swiss city of Zurich on a 31-year-old US warrant and placed under house arrest. He was freed in 2010 after Swiss authorities decided not to extradite him to the US.

Polanski's lawyers in Poland said their client would not try to obstruct any extradition proceedings because while he was in Poland he would put himself at the disposal of prosecutors and the courts. "Following the prosecutors' decision, Roman Polanski can come to Poland when he wants and leave Poland when he wants,"the lawyers, Jan Olszewski and Jerzy Stachowicz, said in a statement provided to Reuters. "Regarding whether the Polish authorities will receive an extradition request, we do not know. If they do receive it, it will be examined by an independent Polish court." Polanski spent part of his childhood in Krakow, until it was occupied by Nazi German forces in World War II.

He escaped Krakow's Jewish ghetto but his mother died in the nearby Auschwitz concentration camp. After World War II he returned to Krakow, and later emigrated.

The film he is planning to shoot is about Alfred Dreyfus, a French artillery officer of Jewish heritage whose conviction on trumped-up treason charges was criticized as having been motivated by anti-Semitism. The case created a schism in French society and Dreyfus was later exonerated.