Roman Polanski on trial in France on charge of defaming accuser

British actress Charlotte Lewis accused Polanski in 2010 of assaulting her when she was a minor; filmmaker dismissed accusations as ‘heinous lie’

Director Roman Polanski on stage after the preview of his movie "J'accuse" (An Officer and a Spy) in Paris, November 4, 2019. (Thomas Samson/AFP)
Director Roman Polanski on stage after the preview of his movie "J'accuse" (An Officer and a Spy) in Paris, November 4, 2019. (Thomas Samson/AFP)

PARIS, France (AFP) — Veteran Franco-Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski will go on trial in France on Tuesday over allegations he defamed a British actress who accused him 14 years ago 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 alleged 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 is not due to appear in court, his lawyers have said.

His accuser, Charlotte Lewis, 56, is expected to be present.

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 traveled there for a casting. 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 British tabloid newspaper News of the World, and quoted Lewis as saying in it: “I was fascinated by him, and I wanted to be his lover.”

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

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

File Photo – Charlotte Lewis, an actress from London, listens to her lawyer’s statement at a press conference in Los Angeles May 14, 2010 (AFP/Robyn Beck).

“Discrediting and defaming [people] is an integral part of the Polanski system, and this is what Charlotte Lewis is very bravely calling out,” her lawyer Benjamin Chouai told AFP.

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

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

His defense lawyers have called on Stuart White, who wrote the 1999 News of the World article, to appear as a witness during the trial.

White is a Los Angeles-based reporter for the now-defunct News of the World who quit to become a scriptwriter.

In the contested article about Lewis, he purportedly described “how she went from hooker to Hollywood.”

The tabloid, which has repeatedly been accused of libel and fabricating quotes, was forced to close in 2011 after its employees were accused of phone hacking in pursuit of stories.

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, sitcom star Bill Cosby, and former US president Donald Trump.

A Femen activist is led away by security staff member inside the film institute La Cinematheque Francaise in Paris, Monday, October 30, 2017. Feminist groups staged a protest against a retrospective honoring movie director Roman Polanski at France’s famed film institute La Cinematheque Francaise. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

France, Switzerland, and Poland have 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.

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