GENEVA – American prosecutors closely monitored Roman Polanski in Austria and considered seeking his arrest there in the days before the director's apprehension in Switzerland, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.
Los Angeles officials decided against filing a warrant for Polanski's arrest with the Austrian government after questioning how accommodating it would be to an extradition request. They also were concerned about the limited time available before Polanski left the country, according to e-mails obtained by the AP under U.S. public records request.
The e-mail exchange on Sept. 23, three days before Polanski traveled to Switzerland, expand on what was already known about the 76-year-old's movements in the days before his shocking arrest at Zurich's airport.
But they shed new light on how closely U.S. officials were monitoring Polanski's movements and why they chose to go after him in Switzerland, where they are now seeking his extradition for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl.
"I don't have experience with any Austrian extraditions so I don't know how 'friendly' they would be to extradition on such a case," Diana Carbajal, a Los Angeles deputy district attorney, wrote in an e-mail.
She wrote that she has learned Polanski checked out an Austrian hotel that morning and was "on the move" ahead of his scheduled appearance at a Zurich film festival on Sept. 26. With the little time available and the questions over extradition, she asked whether it was better to "maintain our position to extradite from Switzerland."
Lael Rubin, another deputy district attorney, answered: "Yes."
Polanski had been in Austria as early as Sept. 16, when he attended the opening night of his cult musical "Dance of the Vampires" in Vienna.
E-mails obtained by the AP show U.S. officials only learned of his scheduled arrival in Zurich after the Swiss asked if the Washington would be submitting a request for his arrest since he was the subject of an international law enforcement "Red Notice."
Swiss Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli said the Americans immediately confirmed they would seek Polanski's arrest. As a result, Switzerland was required by treaty to apprehend Polanski, the director of such film classics as "Rosemary's Baby" and "Chinatown."
It is unclear from the e-mails why Los Angeles officials were concerned about Austrian cooperation on a Polanski extradition request. There was no reference to Polanski's history as a Jewish Holocaust survivor whose mother died in Auschwitz, or the sensitivities about having him pursued in the land of Adolf Hitler's birth. Austria and the United States have an extradition agreement.
Still, U.S. officials expressed stronger confidence in the Swiss justice system.
"Generally, Switzerland does not release fugitives sought for extradition," a Sept. 25 e-mail states.
Later, on Oct. 5, nine days into Polanski's imprisonment, another e-mail states that the Swiss government assured U.S. officials that Polanski would probably be sent back to Los Angeles to face justice after the U.S. submits its formal extradition request. The U.S. has until Nov. 26 to do so.
"While the Swiss officials cannot speak for the judge, the extradition will likely be ordered based upon the facts submitted in our papers," according to the e-mail, relaying a conversation between Washington and Bern.
Several Swiss politicians and commentators say Switzerland may have cooperated too energetically, and that recent U.S.-Swiss troubles over wealthy American tax cheats and Swiss banks may have provided motivation for the arrest. But Swiss authorities have adamantly rejected that suggestion.
Polanski, who won a 2003 directing Oscar in absentia for "The Pianist," was accused of raping the 13-year-old girl after plying her with champagne and a Quaalude pill during a modeling shoot in 1977. He was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy.
Polanski 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, Polanski was released after 42 days by an evaluator who deemed him unlikely to offend again.
The judge responded by saying he was going to send Polanski back to jail for the remainder of the 90 days and then seek "voluntary deportation." Polanski then fled the country on Feb. 1, 1978, the day he was to be sentenced.
Polanski, a French native who moved to Poland as a child, has lived in France since fleeing the United States. France does not extradite its citizens.
On Wednesday, Polanski's lawyer split on strategies, with one suggesting for the first time that Polanski might voluntarily return to the U.S. to face justice in California after 31 years as a fugitive.
The new approach emerged after a Swiss court dealt the 76-year-old filmmaker a major setback on Tuesday by rejecting his appeal to be freed from jail because of the high risk he would flee again. Polanski, who has until Oct. 29 to appeal that decision, faces lengthy detention if he is unsuccessful and continues to fight extradition.
"If the proceedings drag on, it's not completely impossible that Roman Polanski might decide to go explain himself in the United States, where there are arguments in his favor," one of his lawyers, Georges Kiejman, told Europe 1 radio.
But another Paris-based lawyer for Polanski said there had been no change in strategy.
"We continue to fight extradition, and for him to be free," Temime told The Associated Press.