Paul Haggis says he made mistakes in Italian sex-abuse case

Director Paul Haggis is speaking out amid his ongoing sexual-abuse case in Italy as prosecutors there are trying to put him back under house arrest.

Noting an “absence of constricting violent behavior,” a judge in the Italian city of Brindisi last week released the “Crash” director from a 16-day detention at his hotel, where Haggis had been for a film festival. The two-time Oscar winner recently gave a sprawling interview to the Italian publication La Repubblica, asserting his innocence and discussing the professional fallout from the allegations made against him in the U.S. and abroad.

“Being accused of sexual violence, something that I did not do, was devastating and something I hope no innocent person will ever experience,” Haggis said in a translated interview, which the Italian outlet published Tuesday.

The 69-year-old also admitted to making mistakes from which the allegations stem. According to Italian media, a 30-year-old Englishwoman who knew Haggis before going to the film festival alleged that he forced her to have sex with him over two days at a bed-and-breakfast in Puglia and then dropped her off at a nearby airport while she was in a state of confusion.

“As I told the judge, my first mistake was allowing someone who I hardly knew to come and visit me. It was foolish,” Haggis said. “The second mistake was on the last morning after an incident occurred that I personally found particularly unpleasant, I decided to end this situation; I took this person to the airport hours before her flight. I’m upset with myself for these errors in judgment but cannot comprehend that they resulted in false and damaging accusations against me.”

Haggis asserted that he has never been charged with a crime and no woman has made a criminal complaint against him. He also said that he’s waited five years to clear his name in the U.S. following a civil lawsuit involving a rape allegation but lamented that that case is considered precedent against him in Italy even though it has not yet been heard in U.S. court.

“I am still the only person to ask any prosecutor to investigate,” he said. “As for my work, after five years, I recently got two jobs as a screenwriter. When I was arrested in Italy, I lost both.”

When the reporter likened Haggis’ personal and professional woes to a “bad script,” Haggis replied: “In fiction, you only know the heart of a character when you put them under terrible pressure. I believe this is just as true in life. I have always tried to carry myself with dignity and not speak out or defend myself. I will rely on the courts for the truth and for justice to be served.”

Variety reported Tuesday that the prosecution and lawyers for the alleged victim filed a appeal against the judge’s decision to release Haggis from detention — a decision that came last week during a pretrial hearing in which Haggis came face to face with his accuser.

Asked if he thinks there might be a connection between his high-profile 2009 departure from the Church of Scientology and “what happened” to him since, the director didn’t totally rule it out.

“I don’t yet have proof in this instance, but from what I have learned in dealing with Scientology, they are capable of absolutely anything. If you speak out against them, they will use any means to destroy your reputation, career and family,” Haggis alleged.

“They refer to this ruthless tactic as ‘Fair Game.’ You can ask people who know more than me, like [former Scientology spokesman] Mike Rinder, who for many years supervised Scientology’s ‘black ops,’ as they call it, or one of the dedicated and brave journalists like Bryan Seymour who have spent their careers investigating this dangerous cult,” he added.

Haggis has been an outspoken critic of the church. He participated in the bombshell 2015 documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” and the 2016 docuseries “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath,” and criticized the organization in the New Yorker.

Karin Pouw, a spokesperson for the Church of Scientology, rebuffed Haggis’ remarks on Tuesday.

“This has been Paul Haggis’ playbook all along — accused of rape allegations and horrific sexual assault now by five different women, he refuses to take responsibility for his actions and instead deflects by using the press to falsely blame the Church and shame his alleged victims with false and defamatory rhetoric,” Pouw said in an email to The Times.

Haggis is set to stand trial in New York in October in a separate case related to 2017 allegations made by film publicist Haleigh Breest, who alleged that Haggis raped her at his New York apartment in 2013. Haggis denied the claim and sued Breest, accusing her and her attorney of trying to extort $9 million in “hush money.”

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