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October 24, 2009

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US asks Swiss to hand over Polanski

THE United States has asked Switzerland to hand over Roman Polanski to authorities in California, where he could serve up to two years in prison for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl, Swiss authorities said yesterday.

The Justice Ministry said in a statement that Washington filed its formal extradition request late Thursday. The 76-year-old film maker has been in Swiss custody since his arrest on September 26 as he arrived in Zurich to attend a film festival.

The request has been forwarded to Zurich authorities, who will hold a hearing on an unspecified date to decide whether Polanski should be sent back to Los Angeles. If extradition is approved, Polanski may appeal the decision to Switzerland's top criminal court and, theoretically, to the Federal Supreme Court.

That means the director of such film classics as "Rosemary's Baby" and "Chinatown" could remain in a Swiss jail for months more of legal wrangling, even though legal experts say he has little chance of avoiding a return to the US after 31 years as a fugitive.

The maximum sentence he can get in California is two years, the ministry said.

"In the American case, he declared himself guilty of having sexual relations with a minor," spokesman Folco Galli told Europe-1 radio. "According to American law, the maximum penalty for the crime in question is two years in prison."

Galli later told The Associated Press that the sentence couldn't be longer because Polanski could only be punished for the crime that is the basis of his extradition.

In Paris, Polanski's lawyer said the director would fight extradition.


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