Film-maker Paul Haggis arrested over sexual assault allegations in Italy

Authorities detained Oscar-winning film director Paul Haggis on Sunday in connection with allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman in southern Italy, Italian news media said, quoting local prosecutors.

The Canadian-born Haggis, 69, has been in Italy for a film festival that begins on Tuesday in Ostuni, a tourist town in Puglia, the region that forms the “heel” of the Italian peninsula.

An attorney for Haggis, Priya Chaudhry, issued a statement declaring the director “totally innocent”.

“Under Italian law, I cannot discuss the evidence,” Chaudhry said. “That said, I am confident that all allegations will be dismissed against Mr. Haggis. He is totally innocent, and willing to fully cooperate with the authorities so the truth comes out quickly.”

A statement from the film fest to the outlet Variety said organizers had “learned with dismay and shock the news that Paul Haggis is in custody for alleged violence”.

The fest’s directors “immediately proceeded to remove any
participation of the director from the event” and “at the same time,
they express full solidarity with the woman involved”, their statement added.

Haggis is a director, producer and screenwriter. He won an Oscar in 2006 for best original screenplay for Crash. He subsequently wrote screenplays for Million Dollar Baby, the James Bond installments Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale, as well as directing In the Valley of Elah and The Next Three Days.

He was previously a prominent Scientologist and has written about his process of escaping the organization.

The news agency LaPresse and several other Italian media carried a written statement from prosecutors in the nearby city of Brindisi that they were investigating allegations involving a “young foreign woman” who was forced to have “non-consensual” sexual relations over two days.

Prosecutors Antonio Negro and Livia Orlando, who are conducting the investigation, said in the statement that the woman was “forced to seek medical care” after the sexual relations. After a couple of days “of non-consensual relations, the woman was accompanied by the man” to Brindisi airport on Sunday and “was left there at dawn despite (her) precarious physical and psychological conditions”.

The Brindisi prosecutors’ office was reportedly closed on Sunday. Haggis’s attorney didn’t immediately respond to news agencies’ request for comment.

The prosecutors said airport staff and police noticed her obviously “confused state” and – after lending initial treatment – took her to Brindisi’s police headquarters. Officers there accompanied her to a local hospital for examination.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Haggis was being held at the police station, at a hotel or other lodging.

Italian prosecutors also were quoted as saying that the woman “formalized her complaint and cited circumstances which were subsequently looked into for confirmation by investigators”. They didn’t cite her nationality or age.

Paul Haggis was previously accused in the US of sexual misconduct by four women, including two allegations of rape, in 2018. In that case, which has yet to come to court, the director was originally the subject of a lawsuit from a publicist who claimed he raped her. Three other women have come forward with accusations.

Publicist Haleigh Breest accused Haggis of “a shocking and egregious case of rape and sexual assault” that occurred in 2013. Haggis filed a countersuit claiming that the lawsuit was “extortion”, a $9m attempt to get money from him. The three subsequent accusers have not revealed their identities.

Haggis’s legal team denied any accusations, arguing that “he didn’t rape anybody”.

In an interview with the Guardian about sexual harassment in Hollywood, Haggis referred to it as a “fairly sexist” town.

“A lot of people are compromised by Harvey’s alleged actions,” he said. “Although everyone thinks it is vile behavior, you have got to focus on those who may have colluded and protected him.”

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