By Calvin Palmer
Oscar-winning film director Roman Polanski has been arrested by Swiss police hours before he was due to receive an award at the Zurich Film Festival.
Polanski, 76, has been a fugitive from justice for 31 years after fleeing the United States in 1978 before being sentenced for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said moves to detain Polanski were set in motion last week.
Prosecutors forwarded an arrest warrant to the U.S. Justice Department which then presented it to authorities in Switzerland.
The Swiss Justice Ministry said it was awaiting an official request from the U.S. to extradite Polanski following his arrest.
Two months ago Polanski asked a California appeals court to overturn a judge’s refusal to consider his request to throw out a 1977 case in which he pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Judge Peter Espinoza agreed there was misconduct by the judge in the original case, but said Polanski must return to the U.S. to apply for dismissal.
The victim at the centre of the case, Samantha Geimer, has previously asked for the charges to be dropped, saying the continued publication of details “causes harm to me, my husband and children”.
Polanski, who lives in Paris, has avoided two previous attempts to apprehend him when he was due to attend countries that have an extradition treaty with the U.S.
A statement from the organizers of the film festival stated: “Roman Polanski, one of the greatest film directors of our time, would have received an award for his life’s achievement at the Zurich Film Festival.”
Polanski won the Oscar for best director in 2002 for The Piano.