By Jason Rhodes and Bob Tourtellotte
ZURICH/LOS ANGELES - Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski, whose tumultuous life has overshadowed his film work, was arrested this weekend in Zurich setting up a U.S. extradition on a 1978 arrest warrant stemming from the rape of a 13-year-old girl.
Polanski, 76, was taken into custody after arriving in Switzerland where he was to receive a prize at the Zurich Film Festival on Sunday. He now faces a battle over extradition in that country, and perhaps even a new Los Angeles trial in the 30-year-old case in which he has already pleaded guilty.
The director fled the United States on the eve of his 1978 sentencing because he believed a judge might overrule his plea and put him in jail for 50 years. But a 2008 film documentary has prompted new questions of judicial misconduct, and his lawyers have tried unsuccessfully to get his case dismissed.
Los Angeles attorneys Bart Dalton, Dough Dalton and Chad Hummell said they were unaware of any extradition and different lawyers would handle that case.
Polanski is a French citizen and for years has avoided countries that have U.S. extradition treaties. He has never returned to Los Angeles, where in 1969 his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Manson's cult.
French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand was "stunned" to hear about the arrest, his office said, adding President Nicolas Sarkozy was following the case and hoped the matter could be resolved, allowing Polanski to return to his family.
"We are going to try to lift the arrest warrant in Zurich ... the (extradition) convention between Switzerland and the United States is not very clear," Polanski's lawyer, Georges Kiejman, told France Info radio.
LONG ARM OF THE LAW
Los Angeles County District Attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said her office learned last week Polanski would be in Zurich and sent a provisional arrest warrant to the Swiss.
Gibbons could not say when an extradition might take place and that if Polanski did return, it "would be up to the court to determine what will happen to Mr. Polanski."
The Swiss Federal Justice Department said the extradition warrant and any final decision could be challenged in court.
Polanski was initially arrested in the United States in 1977 and charged with giving drugs and alcohol to the minor and having unlawful sex with her at actor Jack Nicholson's Hollywood home. Nicholson was not in the house at the time.
The director maintained the girl was sexually experienced and consented. Polanski spent 42 days in prison undergoing psychiatric tests and eventually agreed to plead guilty and receive a sentence of time served.
The case was the subject of a 2008 film documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" that included interviews with the victim, Samantha Geimer of Hawaii, and lawyers for both sides.
It argues, in part, that Polanski was the victim of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct. In a 2008 interview, Geimer told Reuters Polanski should not face any jail time.
Based on what they said was new evidence in the film, Polanski's lawyers tried to have the case dismissed, but were denied their attempt earlier this year by a Los Angeles judge.
Los Angeles criminal defense specialist Steve Cron, who is unaffiliated with the case, said Polanski's attorneys might now agree to extradition believing the charges could be dropped.
TUMULTUOUS LIFE, BRILLIANT FILMS
Born to Polish-Jewish parents in 1933, Polanski's family were Holocaust victims, although he survived to become a brilliant filmmaker.
His first full-length feature, "Knife in the Water," won a number of awards, and his reputation grew with "Repulsion," his study of a woman terrified by sex who becomes a murderer.
Polanski scored a huge hit in the United States with 1968 horror thriller "Rosemary's Baby," and another with 1974's "Chinatown," a stylish thriller starring Nicholson that was nominated for 11 Academy Awards.
"Tess" (1979) also earned him an Oscar nomination, and Polanski finally won his only best director Oscar for 2002 film "The Pianist," the story of a Jewish-Polish musician who sees his world collapse with the outbreak of World War Two.
Polanski is married to actress Emmanuelle Seigner with whom he has two kids, and his arrest sparked an outcry in France.
"I am shocked that any man of 76, whether distinguished or not, should have been treated in such a fashion," British novelist Robert Harris, who has been working with Polanski for three years, said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Paris, Nicole Maestri in San Francisco and Bob Tourtellotte in Los Angeles; Writing by Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Chris Wilson )