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French court acquits director Polanski of defaming British actress

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A French court on Tuesday acquitted French-Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski of defaming British actor Charlotte Lewis after she accused him of raping her when she was a teenager.

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Polanski, 90, was not in court for the verdict at the Paris criminal court.

Lewis told the court in March that she became the victim of a “smear campaign” that “nearly destroyed” her life after she spoke up about abuse that took place in the 1980s.

“He raped me,” the 56-year-old actor told the court, explaining it had taken her time to put a name on the incident that occurred in Paris when she was 16.

The verdict by this court, which specialises in media cases, relates strictly to the charge of defamation and not over the actor’s rape accusation against Polanski.

The filmmaker, whose titles include the Oscar-winning “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Chinatown” and “The Pianist”, did not attend any hearings of the trial.

Polanski 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. He fled to Europe in 1978.

Lewis in 2010 accused Polanski of abusing 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 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.

‘Not the interview’

Stuart White, who wrote the 1999 News of the World article to which Polanski referred, was also present in court.

“The interview I gave to Stuart White was not the interview that was in the newspaper,” Lewis said, adding she discovered the article only years later.

White said he interviewed Lewis twice after the paper paid 30,000 pounds ($38,000 at today’s rates) for exclusive rights.

He insisted she had agreed to a “vice girl” angle to the 1999 story, but said he could not remember if she had asked to approve the text before it was published.

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.

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

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 the allegations.

(AFP)

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