Paul Harris Under House Arrest in Italy Over Sexual Assault Claims

Academy Award-winning director Paul Haggis is currently under house arrest in Italy after being accused last week of sexually assaulting a British woman — and he faces similar allegations from several women in the US.

The Canadian-born director — who won Oscars in back-to-back years for his films “Crash” and “Million Dollar Baby” — was in southern Italy to take part in the Allora Film Festival, which has since canceled all of his appearances and distanced itself from the 69-year-old filmmaker.

According to Italian news outlet La Repubblica, which obtained a copy of the prosecutor’s report, the British woman said she first met Haggis at a film festival at the end of April, and that Haggis later reached out to her on Instagram. After speaking on the app for weeks, she said, the two decided to meet up in Puglia and she arrived in Italy on June 12. The woman said Haggis sexually assaulted her twice over the next four days, according to La Repubblica.

The Daily Beast reported that investigating prosecutor Antonio Negro’s office said Haggis dropped the woman off at the Brindisi Airport the morning of June 15, giving her money to buy a ticket when the airport opened. A flight attendant found the woman cowering in a corner of the airport and contacted police, The Daily Beast reported.

According to the prosecutor’s office, the woman was taken to the hospital where it was determined she “suffered repeated non-consenting sexual acts,” and a medical examiner’s report stated that due to the violent nature of the assault the woman was left incapable of having sex, according to The Daily Beast.

Haggis’ attorney in Italy, Michele Laforgia, told Italian news website ANSA that Haggis said he is “totally innocent” and that the “relations he had with this woman … were totally consensual.”

An Italian judge ordered last week that Haggis should be held under house arrest at his hotel in Ostuni while the investigation continues, Deadline reported.

Paul Haggis

 

Haggis is seen accepting the Oscar for Best Screenplay for his film “Crash” in 2006.


M. Caulfield/WireImage via Getty

The director is facing similar accusations in New York

In December 2017, publicist Haleigh Breest filed a lawsuit against Haggis, accusing him of raping her at his SoHo apartment in January 2013.

According to the complaint, Breest was 26 years old at the time — less than half the director’s age.

Breest said in the complaint that she was working at an event when Haggis offered to give her a ride home when the event was over. She said he then invited her to his apartment to have a drink and she agreed because she was worried about the implications of saying no to such a prominent man in Hollywood, according to the lawsuit.

Almost immediately after getting up to his apartment, Breest said that Haggis “began to make unwanted sexual advances and to forcibly kiss her” despite repeatedly telling him, “No.”

Breest said Haggis took her into a bedroom where he “violently” removed her tights, forced her to give him oral sex, and “aggressively” inserted his finger into her vagina before raping her, according to the complaint. Breest said she eventually lost consciousness and woke up alone in the bedroom. She said she left the apartment after finding Haggis in another bedroom. According to the complaint, Breest suffered vaginal tearing from the encounter.

Three women later came forward to Breest’s legal team with similar complaints against Haggis. The anonymous women are listed as Jane Does 1-3 in Breest’s amended complaint, which was filed a year later in July 2018.

“The experiences of these additional women and Ms. Breest make clear that Paul Haggis is a serial predator who has preyed upon women for many years,” Breest’s legal team wrote in the filing.

Here’s a summary of the three other women’s allegations outlined in the amended complaint:

  • Jane Doe 1 said Haggis forcibly kissed her during a late evening meeting in 1996, when she was working as a publicist on a television program with him. She said he became “menacing and threatening” when she pushed him away. She said he removed her clothes, forced her to give him oral sex, and then pushed her onto the floor of the office where he raped her, according to the complaint.
  • Jane Doe 2 said Haggis came onto her during a meeting in 2008 where she was pitching him a TV show idea. At one point during the meeting, she said Haggis told her, “I need to be inside you,” then he came over to the couch where she was sitting, grabbed her, and tried to kiss her. Doe 2 said she fled the office, but Haggis chased after her. She said she managed to get into her car and drive off, “leaving him standing in the street,” according to the complaint.
  • Jane Doe 3 said Haggis assaulted and tried to rape her at a film festival in 2015. She said she met with him at the festival to discuss their shared interest in screenwriting, but that Haggis ended up propositioning her twice, despite her making it clear she wasn’t interested in having sex with him, the complaint states. When she said she wanted to go home after attending a film with Haggis, she said he grabbed her and she screamed and pushed him away. She got into a nearby taxi, but said Haggis followed her into the car and insisted on dropping her off at home, according to the complaint. When she got to her apartment, she said he followed her out of the car, grabbed her again, and forcibly kissed her. She said he restrained her arms, but she freed one of them and hit him before managing to escape and get into her building.

When reached for comment on Wednesday about Haggis’ arrest, Breest’s attorney, Ilann M. Maazel said, “We’re very troubled by the allegations against Mr. Haggis in Italy.”

Haggis has denied all of the rape accusations

Paul Haggis Leah Remini

 

Paul Haggis and fellow former Scientologist Leah Remini are seen in 2015.


Debra L Rothenberg/WireImage via Getty

Haggis has denied all allegations of wrongdoing in relation to the lawsuit, and said all sex acts with Breest were of a “voluntary nature.” In a motion to dismiss the case, Haggis alleged that Breest tried to extort him for $9 million before she filed the lawsuit.

The case is pending and on Tuesday a trial date was set for October 11, 2022.

In an April 2021 court filing on the case, Haggis asked for a trial as soon as possible so that he could clear his name, saying his career was suffering as a result. He said in the filing that he has been unable to work as a director and producer and has only been able to obtain a “tiny fraction” of the writing jobs he had prior to the lawsuit, and only at “drastically reduced rates.”

“I have had discussions with producers and financiers, but have been repeatedly told that they cannot work with me until I clear my name,” Haggis wrote in the filing.

He also said he can’t continue to afford his legal fees, saying he’s exhausted his savings and borrowed significant funds to pay his lawyers.

Haggis’ attorney insinuated the Church of Scientology is behind the allegations

When the three other women came forward with allegations against Haggis, his attorney questioned whether the complaints were part of a conspiracy orchestrated by the Church of Scientology.

Haggis is a former member of the secretive celebrity-centric religion, but left the church in 2009 and has since become one of its chiefest critics.

“Mr. Haggis also questions whether Scientology has any role here, which he notes has been attacking him for years with false accusations,” attorney Christine Lepera told Deadline in 2018.

The Church of Scientology, however, issued a statement to Deadline in response to Lepera’s comment, calling the allegation that they were behind the women coming forward an “absurd, paranoid, and bigoted conspiracy theory.”

Haggis’ lawyer, Michele Laforgia, didn’t return Insider’s request for comment about the current status of his case and whether Haggis believes the Church of Scientology is behind the latest allegations. The Church of Scientology didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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