By now you’ve heard the news that Oscar-winning director and screenwriter — as well as former celebrity Scientologist — Paul Haggis, 69, was arrested yesterday in the southern Italian town of Ostuni on sexual assault charges.
We have reached out to numerous people who know Haggis since news of the arrest broke yesterday afternoon, but we haven’t learned anything more than what is being reported elsewhere. Haggis was in Italy to teach master classes at Allora Fest, a film festival scheduled to take place in that city from June 21 to 26. Italian police are reporting that a non-Italian woman was rescued after she said she had been sexually assaulted over two days in a hotel room by Haggis, who then tried to take her to an airport in Brindisi but then abandoned her there at dawn Sunday when she resisted. Airport workers helped the woman and called police. The Daily Beast is reporting, based on a police source, that the woman was a sex worker.
Haggis’s attorney, Priya Chaudhry, sent us this statement: “Under Italian Law, I cannot discuss the evidence. That said, I am confident that all allegations will be dismissed against Mr. Haggis. He is totally innocent, and willing to fully cooperate with the authorities so the truth comes out quickly.”
The arrest is especially troubling in light of what Haggis has been going through for several years, a lawsuit filed in 2017 by a former publicist, Haleigh Breest, who alleges that Haggis raped her after the two were at a film premiere in 2013. Haggis maintains that the encounter was consensual, and he not only denied her allegations but managed to file a countersuit before Breest filed hers, claiming she was simply trying to extort him for $9 million. Haggis’s lawsuit was dismissed, and Breest’s has dragged on because the courts have been backlogged by the pandemic.
After Breest filed her lawsuit, three additional (unidentified) women joined her lawsuit as witnesses, saying they had also been mistreated by Haggis — one of them, like Breest, said she was raped by Haggis, in 1996.
Haggis and his attorneys complained that Breest was keeping electronic communications sealed that would exonerate him, and Haggis filed a motion in 2021 to get the trial moved up so he could prove his innocence. But that motion was denied, and there’s still no trial date set.
In 2020, in an interview with Bryan Seymour, Haggis denied that he raped Breest.
Bryan Seymour: Paul, did you rape Haleigh Breest?
Paul Haggis: Of course I didn’t. No.
Seymour: Why would she make that up?
Haggis: It’s a good question. I don’t know. You know, obviously, you get accused of doing something like that and you know you didn’t do it, I know where I was, I know it was a one-night stand. I know what happened….
Seymour Ms. Breest claims you said to her, ‘You’re scared of me, aren’t you?’ As though you had some sort of misogynistic, violent, sexual approach to her. Did you say that?
Haggis: No, of course I didn’t. I have to be a little careful here because there’s a confidentiality order in place which I really wish wasn’t in place. But in order to have the trial proceed two years ago, we had to sign a confidentiality order. So, assuming that what you’ve learned you’ve learned in public, I can respond to it. But…I would so wish that they would just release the text messages, release the mails, release everything because it proves my innocence, absolutely proves my innocence.
Also in that interview, Haggis said that he was being forced to sell his Soho apartment in New York because he could no longer work as a writer or director in Hollywood as a result of the litigation and the allegations of sexual assault. We were unaware that he had been able to get work appearing at an Italian film festival.
We first learned the stunning news that Haggis was ditching Scientology in a statement he made in 2009 at Marty Rathbun’s blog. Haggis was a longtime Scientologist and a major figure in Hollywood. He directed Crash, 2006’s Best Picture, and it won Haggis Oscars for producing and writing. He was also nominated for writing 2005’s Best Picture winner Million-Dollar Baby. And he had written many other films and TV shows over decades. But then, over four days in October 2009, Haggis described how he had become disillusioned with Scientology because of its “Fair Game” and “disconnection” policies, and on the fourth day revealed his name, announcing that he was no longer a member of the organization.
Less than two years later, in February 2011, writer Lawrence Wright turned Haggis’s defection into a major story for the New Yorker, “The Apostate,” which became the basis for his 2013 book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, and then the 2015 Alex Gibney film for HBO, also called Going Clear. (Full disclosure: Your proprietor was also in the film.)
At the end of Wright’s lengthy 2011 New Yorker piece, he asked Haggis what he saw for himself in the future. Haggis said this: “These people have long memories. My bet is that, within two years, you’re going to read something about me in a scandal that looks like it has nothing to do with the church.”
After Haleigh Breest filed her lawsuit in 2017, her attorneys denied that she had anything to do with Scientology or that the church had anything to do with the litigation. We found no evidence that contradicted that claim.
However, in 2020, Leah Remini and Mike Rinder both told journalist Bryan Seymour that they still believed Scientology was behind the lawsuit.
Seymour: You both came out straightaway and said you believed Scientology is behind the allegations against Paul Haggis. Do you still believe that?
Leah Remini: Yep.
Mike Rinder: Absolutely. There is no question in my mind, Bryan.
After yesterday’s arrest, journalist Yashar Ali posted a tweet reminding his readers that Scientology has a history of targeting people for destruction using highly sophisticated means.
For our own part, we hope that Chaudhry turns out to be prescient and the truth about this matter can come out quickly. Paul Haggis, a person we greatly admired for standing up against Scientology’s abuses, has been accused of serious abuse himself by accusers whose allegations deserve to be respected and examined in the full light of investigation.
Delays keeping evidence sealed that might prove who’s telling the truth serve no one. The sooner there is justice for Haggis or his accusers, the better.
Thank you for reading today’s story here at Substack. For the rest of the daily features that you’re used to — Source Code, Avast Ye Mateys, Overheard in the Freezone, Past is Prologue, and of course Random Howdy — please head over to tonyortega.org and our usual free-for-all in the comments section.
My first thought when I heard about this yesterday was that scientology was behind it. I’m not giving Haggis a free pass, but I’m but pointing fingers at him either, he’s earned enough of my respect to wait to see how this plays out.
I wouldn't put anything past Miscavige and his minions but the jury's still out on this particular incident.