US tipped off by film festival website

Author: By Guy Adams in Los Angeles

Earlier this month, the DA’s office stumbled upon the Zurich Film Festival’s website. They were astonished to see it advertise the fact that the 76-year-old film director would be appearing there to accept a “special award”.

Twice previously, they had attempted to nab Polanski when he visited countries that had extradition agreements with the US. On both occasions he’d been tipped off about their plans and decided to stay at home in France. This time, the DA’s office was more discrete, waiting until the last minute to forward an arrest warrant to the US Justice Department, who then presented it to the Swiss authorities while the fugitive was already en route to the Alpine nation.

“It wasn’t a big secret he was going to be in Zurich: they had announced it on the internet,” said DA spokeswoman, Sandi Gibbons. She added that if Polanski decides to appeal against extradition it will be “two or three months” until he returns to the US.

The big question now is why the Swiss suddenly agreed to the US request. The two countries have boasted reciprocal extradition agreements since the early 1990s, but although Polanski regularly holidayed in Switzerland, and even owned a home there, he had never faced difficulties at immigration.

One explanation for the apparent change of policy would be that the US simply never previously asked Switzerland to arrest him. Another, more intriguing one, links this weekend’s events to a scandal that has engulfed the Swiss bank UBS.

The firm recently admitted helping thousands of wealthy Americans evade their taxes. It is currently negotiating with the IRS to hand over the account details of all US clients, after UBS employees were threatened with prosecution. Not only is the affair a potential PR disaster for Switzerland, the favoured bankers of Nazis, third-world dictators and major criminals, it also threatens to undermine the entire business model of their most lucrative industry.

Some commentators therefore wonder whether Polanski’s arrest represents some sort of quid pro quo. The AP news agency accidentally leaked a memo from a correspondent saying the Swiss are now “under intense pressure over UBS and want to throw the US a bone”. It is a theory Swiss authorities have been swift to reject.

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