Sexual harassment and assault
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Canadian director Paul HaggisPhoto: EPA-EFE

Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis detained in Italy over sexual assault claims

  • Filmmaker Paul Haggis was accused of sexually assaulting a young, non-Italian woman who has pressed charges
  • A lawyer for Haggis denied the allegations: ‘He is totally innocent, and willing to fully cooperate with the authorities’

Film director Paul Haggis was detained on Sunday for investigation of allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman in southern Italy, Italian news media said, quoting local prosecutors.

The Canadian-born, Oscar-winning 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.

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 a “young foreign woman” was forced to have “non-consensual” sexual relations over two days.

Haggis’s lawyer, Priya Chaudhry, said that although she could not discuss the evidence under Italian law, “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”.

Prosecutors Antonio Negro and Livia Orlando, who are conducting the investigation, said in the statement that the woman was “forced to seek medical care” following 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”.

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The Brindisi prosecutors’ office was closed on Sunday.

The prosecutors said airport staff and police noticed her “obvious confused state” and after lending initial treatment, took her to Brindisi’s police headquarters, where officers accompanied her to a local hospital for examination.

Police at headquarters’ operations room said they weren’t authorised to give out information about the case, including whether Haggis was being held at the police station or at a hotel or other lodging.

Haggis is a director, producer and screenwriter. He won an Oscar in 2006 for best original screenplay for Crash.

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

Haggis was previously sued by publicist Haleigh Breest, who accused the Million Dollar Baby screenwriter of sexually assaulting her in his New York flat in 2013. Three additional women later accused Haggis of sexual misconduct, but Haggis has denied the allegations.

Additional reporting by Tribune News Service