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Canadian filmmaker Paul Haggis arrested in Italy on charges of sexual assault

A woman alleged that she was forced to have nonconsensual sexual relations over a two-day period, according to prosecutors. His attorney said he was "totally innocent."
Image: Paul Haggis
Paul Haggis at the premiere of "To Rome With Love" in N.Y., on June 20, 2012.Dennis Van Tine / Star Max/IPx via AP file

Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis was arrested in Italy on Sunday on charges of sexual assault and aggravated personal injury, police said.

Haggis, 69, was in Italy for a film festival set to start Tuesday in the tourist town of Ostuni, in the southern Puglia region, according to The Associated Press.

Prosecutors in the nearby city of Brindisi said he was arrested in connection with allegations from a "young foreign woman" who alleged that she was forced to have nonconsensual sexual relations over a two-day period.

Priya Chaudhry, an attorney for Haggis, said the Canadian filmmaker was "totally innocent" and was willing to cooperate with authorities.

"Under Italian Law, I cannot discuss the evidence," 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 obtained by NBC News, prosecutors Antonio Negro and Livia Orlando said the alleged victim had been "accompanied by the man" to Brindisi airport Sunday and was left there at dawn, "despite (her) precarious physical and psychological conditions."

The prosecutors said airport workers and police had noticed the woman was in a state of confusion and took her to Brindisi's police headquarters.

They said the woman went to receive medical care following the incident, with officers accompanying her to a local hospital for examination.

The prosecutors said the woman “formalized her complaint and cited circumstances" which investigators subsequently looked into for confirmation.

There is no option of bail under the Italian system. A trial will take place in Brindisi, prosecutor Antonio Negro told NBC News, with the accused expected to be interrogated in the next few days. The woman who accused Haggis will also be questioned ahead of the trial, Negro said. He did not say where Haggis was being held in the meantime.

Haggis is a screenwriter and producer in addition to a director. He won two Oscars in 2006 for the film "Crash."

He has faced legal trouble before. A publicist alleged he raped her after a 2013 movie premiere and sued him four years later; her civil lawsuit prompted three additional women to come forward with accusations of sexual misconduct in early 2018.

Haggis denied the original allegation and sued the publicist, Haleigh Breest, accusing her of trying to bankrupt him. Breest's lawsuit is still pending because of delays related to the pandemic, according to The New York Times.

In January 2018, Christine Lepera, an attorney for Haggis, told The Associated Press in response to the three additional accusations, "He didn't rape anybody."