Polanski loses first round in extradition battle

BERN, Switzerland – Roman Polanski lost the first round Tuesday in his battle to avoid extradition to the U.S. for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl. Already locked in a Zurich cell for the last dozen days, Polanski learned he will remain incarcerated for an extended period as the Swiss Justice Ministry rejected his plea to be released from custody.

Swiss authorities expressed fear he might flee the country if freed from prison. The director of such film classics as "Rosemary's Baby" and "Chinatown" has been wanted by U.S. authorities since fleeing sentencing 31 years ago.

"We continue to be of the opinion that there is a high risk of flight," said ministry spokesman Folco Galli, explaining the decision.

Galli told The Associated Press that the threat was too great for the government to accept bail or other security measures in exchange for the release of the filmmaker.

Polanski was apprehended Sept. 26 as he arrived in Zurich to receive an award from a film festival. Authorities in Los Angeles consider him a convicted felon and a fugitive, and Switzerland says there has been an international warrant out on him since 2005.

Polanski's legal representatives are also appealing to Switzerland's federal criminal court to free the director. Galli said the Justice Ministry has submitted a letter to the tribunal explaining why it opposes release even on bail.

Legal experts say Polanski stands a minimal chance of a speedy release, even if his lawyers have suggested he be held under house arrest in his chalet in the luxury resort of Gstaad.

"In practice, I don't remember any case where a fugitive has been released on bail while awaiting extradition to a foreign country," said former Zurich prosecutor Peter Cosandey, adding that Polanski's ownership of an Alpine chalet doesn't aid his case greatly.

"He could easily disappear," Cosandey told The AP, referring to Switzerland's lax border controls. "He could just hop on a train to Germany. Coming by plane, you're often just waived on. By car, it's even easier."

Dieter Jann, another Zurich ex-prosecutor, has said extradition would be hard to fight, and he thought Switzerland had followed procedures correctly.

In Paris, Polanski's lawyers took note of the decision and said they would focus on convincing the court to free Polanski.

"In particular, Mr. Polanski undertakes to remain in Switzerland for the duration of the extradition procedure, and to respect all obligations that could be imposed on him to guarantee this commitment," said a statement.

One of the lawyers, Herve Temime, added that Polanski did not pose a flight risk.

"We sincerely hope that the Swiss judges are able to remain detached," he told reporters.

Polanski was accused of plying the underage 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. In exchange, the judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and sentence him to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation.

However, he was released after 42 days by an evaluator who deemed him mentally sound and unlikely to offend again.

Bradley S. Klapper reported from Geneva.