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Poland Revives Effort to Extradite Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski

The Polish government said on Tuesday that it would revive an effort to extradite the filmmaker Roman Polanski, whom the American authorities have wanted for decades. He pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl but fled to Europe the next year, on the eve of his sentencing.

The announcement is the latest twist in a long-running legal battle that, at least in Poland, seemed to have ended.

On Oct. 30, a judge in Krakow, Poland, ruled that turning over Mr. Polanski would be an “obviously unlawful” deprivation of liberty and that the state of California was unlikely to provide humane conditions of confinement for the filmmaker, who is 82. The next month, the Krakow prosecutor’s office said it would abide by the judge’s ruling.

But in a statement on Tuesday, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who is also Poland’s chief prosecutor, said he had decided to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, calling the trial judge’s decision a “serious breach” of the extradition agreement between the United States and Poland.

Mr. Ziobro did not cite the judge, Dariusz Mazur, by name, but he said the judge had “assessed the gathered evidence in a biased and selective way.” Mr. Ziobro added that the time limit for prosecuting Mr. Polanski in the United States had not passed.

The justice minister also said he disagreed with the judge’s decision that Mr. Polanski had effectively already been punished. Mr. Polanski spent 42 days in jail before fleeing the United States in 1978, and he was held in Switzerland from 2009 to 2010, before the Swiss government declined to extradite him.

The detention in Switzerland was “a consequence of his escape abroad from American justice and avoiding criminal liability, not a punishment for a crime of which he is accused,” the minister said.

Mr. Ziobro said he also found “incomprehensible” the Krakow judge’s findings that Mr. Polanski would face inhumane or degrading treatment if extradited to the United States.

In an interview with Polish state radio, Mr. Ziobro suggested that Mr. Polanski had escaped justice because of his fame. “If he was just a regular guy, a teacher, doctor, plumber, decorator, then I’m sure he’d have been deported from any country to the U.S. a long time ago,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

The immediate implications for the filmmaker, an Oscar-winning director famous for films including “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” were not clear. Mr. Polanski, a Holocaust survivor, is a dual citizen of France, his primary country of residence, and of Poland, where he was born in 1933.

Mr. Polanski, who has a home in Krakow, has been working on a film in Poland about Alfred Dreyfus, a French Army captain who was wrongly convicted of spying for Germany in 1894. Last week, Mr. Polanski appeared at a news conference in Katowice, Poland, with the French composer Alexandre Desplat, who has written the scores for several of Mr. Polanski’s films.

Jan Olszewski, a lawyer for Mr. Polanski, told the Polish television network TVN24 that the announcement was not a surprise. “We had been expecting the minister to do it,” he said.

“We are not pondering here the question of whether Polanski is guilty or not — the judge was very clear in this regard,” he added. “We are discussing whether Roman Polanski can be extradited. These are two different things.”

Several institutional and political changes have occurred in Poland since the Krakow court’s ruling. In November, a government led by the right-wing Law and Justice Party, which swept parliamentary elections, took office.

The party has moved Poland to the right and taken steps to curb judicial and news media independence, alarming European Union leaders, who say the shift might violate the democratic norms of the 28-nation bloc.

The party is known for its law-and-order approach, and for its appeal to Roman Catholic and nationalist voters.

Mr. Ziobro, who became justice minister in November, has consolidated power, and regional prosecutors like the one in Krakow now report to him.

In his statement, Mr. Ziobro suggested that his decision was not politically motivated. He noted that his predecessor as chief prosecutor, Andrzej Seremet, requested a review of the Krakow court’s ruling in December, with an eye toward a possible appeal.

Mr. Polanski was arrested in 1977 on charges that included the rape of a teenage girl at the home of the actor Jack Nicholson. That August, he pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor under a deal that allowed him to avoid conviction on other, harsher charges, including sodomy and rape.

He fled the United States the next year, after learning that the trial judge in California, Laurence J. Rittenband, had decided to revise a plan to limit his sentence to a 90-day psychiatric evaluation, a portion of which Mr. Polanski had already served in a state prison. (The judge, who died in 1993, once vowed to remain on the bench until Mr. Polanski returned.)

In 2009, a California appeals court panel suggested that Mr. Polanski could be sentenced in absentia to time served, opening the way to a possible resolution of the standoff. But the plan was rejected by the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

After the unsuccessful effort to have Mr. Polanski extradited from Switzerland, where he was arrested while at a film festival in Zurich, the United States Department of Justice asked Poland in December 2014 for help in extraditing Mr. Polanski.

Mr. Ziobro, in his statement on Tuesday, took pains to recite the serious crimes for which Mr. Polanski was convicted, including sex with the 13-year-old, who was under the influence of alcohol and methaqualone, a sedative.

In a 2013 memoir, the victim, Samantha Geimer, said she had forgiven Mr. Polanski and moved on with her life.

During the court proceedings in Krakow, two of Mr. Polanski’s defense lawyers, Mr. Olszewski and Jerzy Stachowicz, repeatedly cited the 2008 documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” which suggested prosecutorial overreach and judicial misconduct by American officials.

They argued that extraditing Mr. Polanski would violate the European Convention on Human Rights and his right to a fair trial.

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