Oscar-winning Canadian screenwriter and director Paul Haggis has been arrested in Ostuni, Italy, on charges of sexual assault and aggravated personal injury reportedly inflicted upon a still-unidentified woman who has pressed charges.
According to several Italian press reports and a note from the public prosecutor of the nearby city of Brindisi, Haggis is charged with forcing a young "foreign", meaning non-Italian, woman to undergo sexual intercourse over the course of two days in Ostuni, where he was scheduled to hold several master classes at The Allora Fest, a new film event being launched by Los Angeles-based Italian journalist Silvia Bizio and Spanish art critic Sol Costales Doulton set to run from June 21-26, reports Variety.
Bizio has confirmed to Variety that Haggis is under arrest.
"Under Italian Law, I cannot discuss the evidence," Haggis' longtime personal attorney Priya Chaudhry said in a statement. "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."
In a statement, The Allora Fest said they have "learned with dismay and shock the news that Paul Haggis is in custody for alleged violence".
According to Variety, 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", they added.
"The themes chosen for the festival are, among others, those of equality, gender equality, and solidarity. As professionals and women they are dismayed and hope that the festival will help foster more information and awareness on such a topical and increasingly pressing issue," the statement went on to note.
According to an Italian police report, the alleged victim, after being assaulted, was taken by Haggis to the Papola Casale airport in Brindisi and left there on Friday morning at the crack of dawn, despite her "precarious physical and psychological conditions," reports Variety.
At the airport, the alleged rape victim, in a "confused state", according to the report, was assisted by the airport staff and border police who, after having given her first aid, accompanied her to the offices of the Italian Squadra mobile police unit. Police agents then took the woman to the A. Perrino hospital in Brindisi, where Italy's so-called "pink protocol" for rape victims was put into effect.
Subsequently, the alleged victim filed formal charges against Haggis.
Haggis, who wrote 'Million Dollar Baby' and co-wrote and directed 'Crash', both of which he won an Oscar for, was sued in 2018 by publicist Haleigh Breest, who alleged that he had violently raped her after a premiere in 2013.
The suit prompted three additional women to come forward with their own sexual misconduct accusations against Haggis, who has vehemently denied the claims. The trial is still pending, due to COVID delays.
[With Inputs from IANS]