Polish court puts off Roman Polanski extradition decision

Film-maker Roman Polanski speaking to the media after a court hearing in Krakow on Feb 25, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Film-maker Roman Polanski speaking to the media after a court hearing in Krakow on Feb 25, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

KRAKOW, Poland (AFP) - A Polish court on Wednesday delayed a decision on whether to extradite Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski to the United States where he faces sentencing for the 1977 rape of a 13-year-old girl.

"The judge did not specify the date of the next hearing. He expects to set it for April," court spokesman Beata Gorszczyk told reporters after a nine-hour closed door hearing, during which Polanski testified.

The 81-year-old fugitive, dressed in a suit and tie, told reporters he was "tired" at a press conference that began late because he ducked out to take a call from his wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner.

"It was exhausting. And in a sense pretty painful. Because I had to return to things that I'd prefer forget," the dual French-Polish citizen said alongside his lawyers.

"I can also say that the canteen here is good. I recommend it," he added in a bizarre aside.

The United States filed the extradition request last January. Polanski has said he doubts it will be honoured but added that he will comply with the legal proceedings in Poland, where he will begin shooting a new film this year.

"I trust the Polish justice system. I hope everything will go well," he told private Polish television station TVN24 in January.

Judge Dariusz Mazur said earlier on Wednesday that Polanski's lawyers had petitioned the court to consider evidence from a 2009 case in Switzerland that saw him released after nine months under house arrest after a similar US extradition demand.

Polish prosecutors argue there are legal grounds for the extradition to go ahead, despite a statute of limitations on child sex crimes under Polish law.

If the Krakow court clears the extradition, Poland's justice ministry will still have to take the final decision.

The latest extradition bid comes months after the US tried to have Polanski arrested for sex offences when he travelled to Warsaw for the opening of a Jewish museum in October.

Polanski, who became a French citizen in 1976 after moving to France from Poland, said he would begin shooting a new film in Warsaw in July.

The movie will be about France's Dreyfus Affair, the case of an army captain wrongly convicted in 1894 of espionage and treason. His ordeal has become a symbol of injustice and anti-Semitism.

The director of The Pianist, Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby was accused of raping Samantha Geimer, who was then 13, after a photo shoot in Los Angeles in 1977 when he was 43.

He pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, or statutory rape, avoiding a trial, but then fled the country fearing a hefty sentence.

US officials have regularly pressed for his extradition, but to no avail.

Polanski's lawyers had requested a new hearing to try to close the case on procedural grounds, but a Los Angeles judge refused the move last year.

Geimer published a book in 2013 about her encounter with Polanski. She wrote that she was made to drink champagne and was given a sleeping pill before being raped by Polanski in the house of actor Jack Nicholson.

Geimer, now 51 and a mother of three, wrote in The Girl: A Life Lived In The Shadow Of Roman Polanski that she harbours no hate for her attacker.

"My family never asked that Polanski be punished. We just wanted the legal machine to stop." She said she ultimately forgave Polanski, not for him, but for herself.