Filmmaker Paul Haggis has been arrested in Italy on charges related to the alleged rape of a woman police found dazed and confused on Friday at an airport in the southern city of Ostuni.
Haggis, the multiple Oscar-winning writer-director of Crash and Scientology defector, was arrested on charges of aggravated sexual violence and aggravated personal injuries on orders from the prosecutor’s office in Brindisi, a nearby port city on the Adriatic Sea. In a statement released by the Brindisi prosecutor’s office and carried in La Presee and other Italian news outlets, officials say Haggis is accused of two days of “nonconsensual intercourse” with the woman discovered at the Papola Casale airport.
Haggis was in Italy’s Apulia region for the upcoming Allora Film Festival, where he was billed to speak on panels and in audience discussions. Prosecutors Antonio Negro and Livia Orlando say that he left the accuser at the airport “at the first lights of dawn, despite the precarious physical and psychological conditions of the woman.” The statement identifies the 69-year-old director as P.H., a Canadian national.
On Friday morning, airport staff and police found the woman in what they say was a “confusional state,” the prosecutor’s office wrote; she was taken to a local police station and then to a hospital where she was treated using Italy’s “pink protocol”—procedures and shared operational strategies relating to instances of violence against women. Later, the woman officially reported what she says happened over the course of two days; Haggis “would have forced the young woman, that he had met some time before, to endure sexual intercourse,” the statement from Italian prosecutors said.
The Allora Film Festival, helmed by L.A.-based Italian journalist Silvia Bizio and Spanish critic Sol Costales Doulton, is set to run from Tuesday through Sunday. In a statement, the festival said its leadership “learned with dismay and shock the news that Paul Haggis is in custody for alleged violence.” Haggis’s name was quickly stripped from the festival lineup.
“At the same time, they express full solidarity with the woman involved,” the festival’s directors added in the statement.
Attorneys for Haggis have said that the filmmaker is completely innocent of these charges and, according to his attorney Priya Chaudhry, “willing to fully cooperate with the authorities so the truth comes out quickly.” Haggis will appear in court on Thursday, according to Italian attorney Michele Laforgia, who declined to comment further, citing a lack of detailed information from the prosecutor’s office.
“We cannot declare anything else, nor enter into the merits of the accusations,” Laforgia is quoted as saying in Italian media.
Haggis is currently awaiting a coronavirus-delayed civil trial after he was sued in New York in 2017 by publicist Haleigh Breest, who has accused the director of forcing her to give him oral sex and then raping her in 2013. Haggis has contended that the encounter was consensual and filed a counter-complaint to Breest’s suit. In the complaint, Haggis says that Breest and her attorney had attempted to extort him to the tune of $9 million to avoid legal action.
After Breest accused Haggis of rape—which came amid the wave of #MeToo revelations and accusations of sexual assault and misconduct in Hollywood and elsewhere—three more women came forward to accuse Haggis of rape or sexual misconduct. In 2018, the three accusers detailed to the Associated Press what they said happened during their encounters with Haggis. The alleged incidents took place between 1995, when Haggis was gaining success as a TV writer and producer, and 2015, a decade after Crash took the Academy Award for Best Picture.
All three of the new accusers were young and new in the entertainment field when they say Haggis lured them into private spaces under the guise of a work conversation, then attempted to kiss or otherwise forced himself on them. One of the three accusers to come forward after Breest’s accusation, like Breest, said Haggis forced her to perform oral sex on him and that he then raped her.
In 2018, Haggis’s attorney Christine Lepera responded to the accusations, telling the AP that the filmmaker “didn’t rape anybody.”
Years after the massive success that comes with scripting back-to-back Oscar Best Picture winners—first for the Clint Eastwood-directed Million Dollar Baby in 2005, followed by Crash—Haggis made headlines while exiting the Church of Scientology. After over three decades, the filmmaker left the controversial church in October 2009 over its apparent stance on Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage.
Haggis’ time with and defection from the Church of Scientology was detailed in a lengthy New Yorker article from 2011 titled “The Apostate.” He has complained about the church’s smearing of its former members and was years later interviewed for the documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, which details abuse and exploitation that former members said they endured.
Since the accusations of rape and sexual assault were leveled against him in 2018, Haggis has repeatedly suggested that the Church of Scientology may be behind what he says are false claims. The AP reported that all of the women they interviewed that year denied having any connection to Scientology. Breest has also said that she is not connected to the church. Haggis’s latest accuser has not made any statement in regard to the Church of Scientology.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.