BRINDISI – A judge on Wednesday ordered Academy Award-winning film director Paul Haggis to remain under detention at his hotel in southern Italy while Italian prosecutors continue to investigate a woman’s allegations that he had sex with her over two days without her consent, Italian news reports said.
After conducting a hearing that lasted several hours in the Brindisi courthouse, Judge Vilma Gilli issued the ruling that extends his detention at the farmhouse residence in the countryside of Ostuni, a tourist town where he was supposed to participate in an arts festival this week, Corriere della Sera daily reported.
Calls Wednesday evening to Gilli’s office went unanswered.
The Ansa and LaPresse news agencies said Gilli had concluded that while the 69-year-old Haggis, who lives in the United States, isn't a flight risk, there was the “danger” evidence could be compromised or that the alleged crime could be repeated.
Haggis’ lawyer, Michele Laforgia, said after the hearing that his client, before the judge, had reiterated his total innocence and is in “hopeful expectation” that he will be ultimately vindicated.
“Paul Haggis answered all questions and explained what happened,” Laforgia told reporters outside the courthouse. “He declared himself, as he had already done right after the detention, completely innocent, in the sense that the relations he had with this woman were totally consensual."
While the woman's allegations are investigated, the 69-year-old Canadian-born director, producer and screenwriter was initially ordered on Sunday to stay detained in his guest residence in a farmhouse in Ostuni, a popular tourist town in Puglia, the region forming the “heel” of the Italian peninsula.
Prosecutors have said he is under investigation for alleged aggravated sexual violence and aggravated personal injuries.
Prosecutors have described the woman as young and foreign. State TV and other Italian media said she is a 30-year-old Englishwoman who had known Haggis before he came to Ostuni.
Asked by a reporter what kind of relationship Haggis and the woman had, Laforgia replied that it had been a “relationship of acquaintance.”
The lawyer said the defense disputes a hospital report indicating that the woman had suffered physical injuries.
“There is no sign of injury nor sign of violence,″ Laforgia asserted, adding, “I believe that they (the investigators) badly interpreted the findings of the emergency room” of a Brindisi hospital, where the woman was taken after she told authorities that she had been sexually abused.
Haggis co-wrote, directed and produced “Crash,” which won the 2006 Academy Awards for best picture and best screenplay. He also wrote the screenplay for “Million Dollar Baby," another Oscar winner.
He has had legal problems in recent years stemming from sexual misconduct accusations by four women in the United States.
The lawyer also said that Haggis had told the judge that if his detention were revoked he intended to stay in Italy in any case so he could fully clear his name.
Haggis “has every interest to be present” for courtroom proceedings and “to stay in Italy until his total innocence is definitively ascertained, because, naturally, his life here and in the United States where he resides depends on that,” Laforgia said.
Because Haggis doesn’t speak Italian, he submitted written statements in English to the court throughout the hearing. Translations back-and-forth lengthened the duration of the hearing, Laforgia said.