Sexual assault case against director Paul Haggis dropped in Italy

Sexual assault case against director Paul Haggis dropped in Italy

Judge in Lecce rules no grounds to pursue investigation against Canadian director, 69, who spent 16 days under house arrest

Film director Paul Haggis, center, arrives at the court with his lawyer, Michele Laforgia, in June.

Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis has had a sexual assault charge dropped by an Italian court six weeks after he was accused by a 28-year-old British woman of forcing her to have “non-consensual” sex with him.

A judge in the southern Italian city of Lecce ruled on Friday that there were no grounds to further pursue an investigation.

“After viewing the evidence and hearing arguments from both sides, the district court of Lecce, an appellate court with three judges, unanimously rejected a prosecutor’s appeal to have Haggis’s house arrest reinstated,” said Haggis’s Italian lawyer, Michele Laforgia, in a statement to the Italian news agency Ansa on Saturday.

The ruling came weeks after Haggis, 69, was released from house arrest while prosecutors decided whether to pursue their investigation.

In that hearing, on 5 July, judge Vilma Gilli of the court of Brindisi said there was an “absence of constricting violent behavior”, adding that “the methods of meeting between the suspect and the offended person” were “spontaneous”.

The judge, according to Variety and quoting from Ansa, also noted “a complex story that blurs the original judgment expressed in the ordinance which had ordered house arrest”.

The prosecutor of Brindisi appealed that decision to the court of Lecce after Laforgia presented what he said was “irrefutable and objective evidence that the woman told multiple lies to investigators and the court, with facts and witnesses completely contradicting her story”.

Haggis, who won two Academy awards for Crash and is also known for writing Million Dollar Baby, had been arrested on 19 June in Ostuni, in the southern region of Puglia, and spent 16 days under house arrest.

Laforgia says Haggis’s arrest was the result of a judicial error. On Friday, the court of Lecce contacted attorneys for both parties to inform them of the court’s decision. Four judges have now ruled in favor of Haggis in this particular case.

Haggis is awaiting civil court proceedings in the US where there is a claim by film publicist Haleigh Breest that the director raped her in January 2013. Breest filed that suit in December 2017, and the following month, three other woman came forward to Breest’s attorneys and provided details of other sexual misconduct allegations against Haggis. Haggis denies the allegations.

A trial date for Breest’s suit has been tentatively set for 11 October in Manhattan. Haggis maintains that their encounter, which allegedly took place after a film premiere, was consensual.

In a court filing to the Manhattan court, he said Breest’s claims were “shocking and scandalous claims of fiction” which he “vehemently denies”.