Roman Polanski has been arrested and will be extradited to America.

The 76-year-old director - who fled the US to France in 1978 after being convicted of unlawful sex with a minor - was stopped by police shortly after stepping off a plane in Zurich on Saturday night (26.09.09) where he was set to pick up a lifetime achievement award at the Swiss city's film festival and now faces being sent back to the US within days.

The Swiss Directors' Association branded Saturday's arrest "a cultural scandal".

However, the Swiss Justice Ministry insisted: "There was a valid arrest request. We knew when he was coming - that is why he was taken into custody. He is in provisional detention with view to extradition"

French officials have pledged to help Polanski - now a French citizen but also owns a property in Switzerland - with the country's culture minister Frederic Mitterrand saying he was "deeply shocked" by the arrest and had discussed the matter with President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In a statement, the minister spoke of his "astonishment", saying he "regretted in the strongest way that a new ordeal has been inflicted on someone who has already gone through so much".

The filmmaker can contest his detention and any extradition decision in the Swiss courts, which could take months of legal argument.

If he does not challenge the decision, he could be flown to the US before the end of the week, where he would likely live out his final years in jail.

His lawyer, Georges Kiejman said: "We are going to try to lift the arrest warrant in Zurich... the extradition convention between Switzerland and the United States is not very clear."

In 1977, Roman pleaded guilty to charges of having underage sex with

13-year-old Samantha Gailey, now known as Samantha Geimer.

He believed he would face a jail term of just 42 days, and claimed a judge had reneged on a plea bargain deal to reduce the charges from rape and serious sexual assault if he admitted under-age sex.

Polanski - director of a host of classic movies, including 1968's 'Rosemary's Baby' and 'Chinatown', released in 1974 - plied Samantha with alcohol and sedatives while photographing her for a magazine shoot at actor Jack Nicholson's Hollywood home. Nicholson was not present at the time of the incident.

Samantha - now a 45-year-old married mother - has previously asked prosecutors to drop the arrest warrant, while earlier this year lawyers acting for Polanski insisted the case should be dropped.

However, the Polish-born filmmaker was told he would have to appear in court in person, despite the original trial judge having been found guilty of misconduct.