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Roman Polanski Did Not Defame British Actress, French Court Rules

A court in Paris ruled on Tuesday that the film director Roman Polanski did not defame Charlotte Lewis, a British actress who has accused him of raping her, by asserting in a 2019 interview that she was a liar.

Delphine Meillet, one of Mr. Polanski’s lawyers, told reporters after the ruling that it was “an extremely important day for the rights” of the director, who is 90. “The question the court was addressing was whether you can defend yourself publicly when you are publicly accused,” Ms. Meillet said. “The answer is yes.”

Ms. Lewis, 56, has accused Mr. Polanski of raping her four decades ago, when she was 16, during a casting session at his home in Paris.

She told reporters at the courthouse on Tuesday that she would appeal the ruling, for which the court did not explain its reasoning. “I feel sad, I feel let down,” she said. But, she added: “For us, it’s not over.”

Mr. Polanski is one of the most prominent men to face accusations of sexism and sexual assault in the French movie industry, which on Tuesday also held the first day of the annual Cannes Film Festival. Several women have publicly accused him of sexual assault, though he has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The judges at the Paris court did not rule on whether Mr. Polanski had sexually assaulted Ms. Lewis — only on whether he had legally overstepped his right to free speech and defamed her by disparaging her account in a 2019 interview with Paris Match, a French magazine.

Mr. Polanski has never stood trial for sexual assault in France, including in Ms. Lewis’s case. In her testimony for the defamation case, Ms. Lewis said that she had not filed a rape complaint against Mr. Polanski because the statute of limitations had expired.

During the defamation case, for which evidence was heard in March, a prosecutor expressed doubts about Ms. Lewis’s lawsuit — suggesting that Mr. Polanski had merely expressed an opinion in response to public accusations against him — and did not push for a ruling against the film director. Unlike in the United States, where such cases are often settled out of court, such defamation cases are almost always automatically sent to court in France.

In the 2019 interview, Mr. Polanski called Ms. Lewis’s accusations an “odious lie” and cited past interviews that she gave to British and French publications in which she was quoted speaking favorably about Mr. Polanski, who had cast her in his 1986 movie “Pirates.” Ms. Lewis has disputed the accuracy of some of those interviews.

Ms. Lewis told the court in March that Mr. Polanski’s comments were part of a smear campaign that had “nearly destroyed” her life after her accusations of rape, which she first made publicly in 2010 and which she repeated in her testimony.

Mr. Polanski, who did not attend the court proceedings, is a native of France and moved back to the country in 1978 when he fled the United States before sentencing after pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl, Samantha Geimer. He remains wanted in the United States over the case, but France does not extradite its citizens.

Ms. Geimer, now 61, has asked in recent years that the case be dropped “out of mercy for myself,” and has spoken out in Mr. Polanski’s defense.

But in the wake of the other accusations against him, feminist groups in France have staged protests. In 2020, several actors walked out of an awards ceremony in Paris after he won a prestigious award for best director.

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