Italian actress and sexual abuse campaigner Asia Argento denied Tuesday having had a sexual relationship five years ago with an underage teen, calling the allegations part of "a long-standing persecution."
The New York Times reported on Sunday that Argento, 42, a Harvey Weinstein accuser and leading figure in the #MeToo movement, had paid actor and rock musician Jimmy Bennett US$380,000 over the alleged 2013 incident at a Los Angeles hotel.
"I strongly deny and oppose the contents of the New York Times article... as circulated also in national and international news," a statement issued by her agent said. "I am deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false. I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett."
Argento says that she was linked to Bennett "during several years by friendship only." Argento said the friendship "ended when, subsequent to my exposure in the Weinstein case, Bennett... unexpectedly made an exorbitant request of money from me."
The pair had acted together in the 2004 film "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things", in which Argento plays Bennett's troubled mother. Bennett was two months past his 17th birthday at the time of the alleged encounter, while Argento was 37. The legal age of consent in California is 18.
Argento became a powerful voice for the #MeToo movement after accusing Hollywood producer Weinstein of raping her when she was 21 in his hotel room in 1997 during the Cannes film festival.
Argento explains that her boyfriend, the late chef Anthony Bourdain, "was afraid of the possible negative publicity that such a person, whom he considered dangerous, could have brought upon us."
"We decided to deal compassionately with Bennett's demand for help and give it to him. Anthony personally undertook to help Bennett economically, upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions in our life," the statement said. "This is, therefore, the umpteenth development of a sequence of events that brings me great sadness and that constitutes a long-standing persecution," Argento said, before pledging to take "all necessary initiatives for my protection before all competent venues."
Bennett's legal action was launched a month after Argento's accusations against Weinstein were made public, according to the New York Times report, which added that his lawyer claimed his client recalled the event after Argento's accusations against Weinstein. “His feelings about that day were brought to the forefront recently when Ms. Argento took the spotlight as one of the many victims of Harvey Weinstein,” read the statement.
Weinstein's lawyer Ben Brafman has sought to capitalize on the allegations against Argento, accusing her of "duplicity" and "a stunning level of hypocrisy."
On Monday police in California said that Argento was not currently under active investigation over the Times report but that "inquiries will be made."