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Polanski on trial in France on charge of defaming accuser

Roman Polanski faces several sexual assault accusations dating back decades, all of which he has denied
Roman Polanski faces several sexual assault accusations dating back decades, all of which he has denied - Copyright AFP -
Roman Polanski faces several sexual assault accusations dating back decades, all of which he has denied - Copyright AFP -
Ulrike Koltermann and Marie Dhumieres

Veteran Franco-Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski went on trial in France on Tuesday over allegations he defamed a British actress who accused him of sexual abuse in the 1980s.

The 90-year-old is wanted in the United States over the rape of a 13-year-old in 1977 and faces several other accusations of sexual assault dating back decades and past the statute of limitations — all claims he has rejected.

The director — whose lengthy career includes his Oscar-winning films “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Chinatown” and “The Pianist” — fled to Europe in 1978.

Polanski was absent from the criminal trial in the French capital, but his defence team was present.

His accuser, 56-year-old Charlotte Lewis, sat on a bench.

Lewis in 2010 accused Polanski of sexually assaulting her “in the worst possible way” as a 16-year-old in 1983 in Paris after she travelled there for a casting session. She appeared in his 1986 film “Pirates”.

The France-born filmmaker retorted that it was a “heinous lie” in a 2019 conversation with the Paris Match magazine.

According to Paris Match, he pulled out a copy of a 1999 article in now-defunct British tabloid newspaper News of the World, and quoted Lewis as saying in it: “I wanted to be his lover.”

Lewis has said the quotes attributed to her in that interview were not accurate.

She filed a complaint for defamation, and the film director was automatically charged under French law.

– Ex-tabloid journalist –

Stuart White, a former journalist who wrote the 1999 News of the World article, was also present in court.

The man sat on the other side of the courtroom from Lewis at the start of the proceedings.

In his contested article about the actress, White purportedly described “how she went from hooker to Hollywood”.

News of the World has previously been accused of libel and fabricating quotes. It was forced to close in 2011 after its employees were accused of phone hacking in pursuit of stories.

Polanski’s lawyer Delphine Meillet has said there was no defamation in the Paris Match article.

“Polanski has the right to defend himself publicly, as does the woman who accuses him,” she said.

But the actor’s lawyer Benjamin Chouai told AFP: “Discrediting and defaming (people) is an integral part of the Polanski system, and this is what Charlotte Lewis is very bravely calling out.”

In 2010, Lewis said she decided to speak out to counter suggestions from Polanski’s legal team that the 1977 rape case was an isolated incident.

She spoke in the Los Angeles offices of Gloria Allred, a high-profile attorney who has also represented women accusing US producer Harvey Weinstein, sit-com star Bill Cosby and former US president Donald Trump.

Polanski had been detained in Switzerland on a US-issued international warrant in 2009, and was under house arrest there at the time.

Switzerland eventually rejected the US extradition request. 

– Protest –

France and Poland have also refused to extradite Polanski to the United States.

But plans for Polanski to preside over the Cesars, the French equivalent of the Oscars, were dropped in early 2017 under pressure from feminists.

Between 2017 and 2019, four other women came forward with claims that Polanski also abused them in the 1970s, three of them as minors. He has denied all allegations.

Among them, California artist Marianne Barnard accused him of sexually assaulting her in 1975 after asking her to pose naked when she was 10 years old.

At the 2020 Cesars ceremony, actress Adele Haenel walked out in protest at Polanski being awarded for his film “An Officer and a Spy”.

The director has in recent years kept a very low profile, his latest film “The Palace” premiering without him in Venice last summer.

The defamation trial comes as French cinema reels from accusations it has too long provided cover for abuse.

At this year’s Cesars Awards, actress Judith Godreche denounced “impunity” in the film industry, after accusing two directors of raping and sexually assaulting her as a teenager.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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