[Marxism] Contra Polanski
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Sep 30 09:02:10 MDT 2009
Swiss choose law over neutrality, arrest Polanski
By BRADLEY S. KLAPPER – 16 hours ago
GENEVA — First numbered bank accounts and now Roman Polanski.
Switzerland is no longer a place for foreign fugitives and tax evaders
to live above the law.
Polanski's arrest for extradition to the United States in a 31-year-old
statutory rape case was just the latest crack in the Alpine nation's
cherished legacy as a safe haven, and it set off widespread anger across
"Swiss neutrality is about not taking sides," said Julien Grollier, a
Geneva resident. "They're doing a favor for the United States that they
wouldn't do for another country.
Another Swiss citizen put his anguish at Polanski's arrest more bluntly.
"I'm ashamed to be Swiss," said Ernest Scherrsz, the Grand Palace Hotel
owner in Gstaad, where the 76-year-old Polanski owned his chalet.
Polanski's attorneys on Tuesday asked that the director be released from
custody, the first step in a legal battle to avoid extradition to the
U.S. to face sentencing for having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl
His arrest comes as the country is identifying to the U.S. thousands of
American tax cheats at bank UBS AG, a first-ever deal that pried open
Swiss banking secrecy. The accord was reached only after heavy legal and
political pressure from Washington.
The anger surrounding the moves is not a simple case of America-bashing
or defending an internationally acclaimed artist whose tragic past
includes losing his mother at Auschwitz and an eight-month pregnant wife
in a crazed attack by the Charles Manson cult.
The Swiss criticism largely stems from an inherent fear of losing
sovereignty and a tradition of restrained governance that places a
supreme value on individual rights.
The famously independent Swiss have fought off foreign invaders for
centuries, and still credit their neutrality for escaping invasion from
neighboring Nazi Germany during World War II.
From the center of the continent they have rebuffed the European Union,
and welcomed in recent decades countless political refugees and famous
cultural figures such as Charlie Chaplin, who found a home here after he
was refused re-entry into the United States in 1952 over charges he
associated with Communists.
It also bucked Washington in the 1980s when the U.S. sought the
extradition of Marc Rich, the fugitive trader known as the "King of
Commodities" who was controversially pardoned in 2001 by Bill Clinton
just hours before he left office as U.S. president.
Rich fled the U.S. for Switzerland in 1983 after he was indicted by a
federal grand jury on more than 50 counts of fraud, racketeering,
trading with Iran during the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis and evading
more than $48 million in income taxes.
Switzerland didn't regard tax evasion as a crime and, as a neutral
country, didn't have any embargo against Iran. It refused to treat Rich
— a billionaire trader in oil, metals and other commodities — as a crook
or hand him over to the United States despite strong diplomatic
pressure. He remains there today.
Switzerland's independent streak has faded in recent years as
globalization made it increasingly difficult to preserve its lofty perch
In 2002, it finally joined the United Nations and has been forced to
tighten its venerated banking secrecy laws after a series of
international flaps over dictator cash, Jews who couldn't access their
Holocaust-era accounts and, most recently, wealthy Americans who stashed
billions of dollars in UBS.
It has become a world leader in returning potentate money, sending back
hundreds of millions in Swiss accounts linked to dictators, including
the late Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. And reforms — prompted by
foreign pressure — have made it much harder to open up confidential
accounts from abroad.
"We don't make any difference between criminal acts," said Guido Balmer,
spokesman for the Swiss Justice Ministry. "The basic principle is
whether the act is criminally punishable in both countries."
Balmer said Polanski's case is different from Rich's because sex with a
minor is a criminal offense in Switzerland and the United States. But
coming so shortly after a U.S.-Swiss deal to help U.S. authorities
prosecute nearly 5,000 American account holders, a number of politicians
weren't so sure.
"Maybe Switzerland wanted to serve the United States," Green Party chief
Ueli Leuenberger noted on the radio panel providing a rare moment of
accord between Switzerland's main right-wing and left-wing parties.
Jean Ziegler, a former Socialist politician and author who advises the
United Nations on human rights issues, called the arrest a "political
"The government is so traumatized by the IRS and whole UBS scandal,"
said Ziegler, a frequent critic of the U.S. government and Swiss banks.
"If any American authority asks for anything in Switzerland, they get it
in 24 hours. They could call and say 'Please send the gold of your
national bank to America,' and (the government) would do it right away."
Balmer called Polanski's arrest and incarceration a "legal process" and
said the government had not been affected by lingering tension with
American authorities. Similarly, he said it would not be swayed by
pressure from France and Poland, where the filmmaker has citizenship and
whose foreign minister have sharply criticized Switzerland for the arrest.
A number of questions remained. Polanski's friends and lawyers note that
he has spent long periods of time at a chalet he owns in the luxury
resort of Gstaad, and he was in Switzerland for an extended period this
Asked why Polanski was not apprehended then, Balmer said the question
"Last week, we received precise information when and where he would
arrive, enabling us to make the arrest. That was the first time," he
told the AP. He would not comment further on previous contacts with U.S.
Ziegler said celebrities would now think twice before traveling or
relocating to Switzerland if the government has "no choice" but to
arrest people when asked by powerful governments like the United States.
"The Swiss image as such in the world will suffer," he said.
Their were some dissenting views, however, especially among Swiss legal
"The extradition department at the Justice Ministry had no other
choice," said Dieter Jann, a former Zurich prosecutor. "This was in no
way an exceptional case. It is normal to follow up on tips from
investigators and to inform border control."
Associated Press writer Eliane Engeler in Geneva and Balz Bruppacher in
Bern, Switzerland, contributed to this report.
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