By Wiktor Szary
WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland will appeal a court decision not to extradite filmmaker Roman Polanski to the United States over a 1977 child sex conviction, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said on Tuesday, reigniting a long legal battle.
The United States requested Polanski's extradition from Poland after he made a high-profile appearance in Warsaw in 2014. The Oscar-winning filmmaker lives in Paris but also has an apartment in Krakow in southern Poland and visits regularly.
A Polish court rejected the request in October last year, and the prosecutor's office initially said it would not appeal the decision.
But since then, Poland's new, staunchly conservative government of the Law and Justice (PiS) party has merged the posts of justice minister and prosecutor general, giving it more direct control over prosecution.
Zbigniew Ziobro, who assumed the newly merged post, has been a vocal critic of the court's decision not to extradite the filmmaker, saying Polanski's celebrity status had helped him escape justice.
"I've decided to file an appeal in the supreme court against the ruling ... in which the ... court decided not to extradite Mr Polanski to the U.S. in a situation when he's accused of and wanted for ... a rape of a child," Ziobro told Poland's state radio.
"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," he said.
Speaking to private broadcaster TVN24, Polanski's lawyer Jan Olszewski said that given Ziobro's previous comments, his decision was "not surprising."
"I guarantee that if there were no factual arguments on our side, Polanski's (celebrity) status itself would not protect him from extradition."
The case of the Polish-born Polanski, now 82, remains an international cause celebre nearly four decades after the crime, with some demanding harsh punishment and others urging that extradition efforts be dropped.
Polanski pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl during a photo shoot in Los Angeles. He served 42 days in jail after a plea bargain but later fled the United States fearing a lengthy jail time if the deal was overruled.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has long insisted that Polanski remains a fugitive and subject to immediate arrest in the United States because he fled the country before sentencing. It says his case cannot be resolved until he returns to California to face justice.
In 2009, he was arrested in Zurich on a U.S. warrant and placed under house arrest. He was freed in 2010 after Swiss authorities decided not to extradite him.
Samantha Geimer, the victim in the case, has made clear she believes Polanski's long exile has been punishment enough.
(Additional reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz and Adrian Krajewski; Editing by Tom Heneghan)