By Samantha Cooney
August 21, 2018

Asia Argento, one of the most prominent voices in the #MeToo movement, has denied allegations that she sexually assaulted a former co-star when he was 17 years old and said in a statement that it was her late partner Anthony Bourdain who insisted on paying her accuser to keep quiet.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Argento privately agreed to to pay $380,000 to Jimmy Bennett in the months after she became one of the first women to publicly accuse movie producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. Bennett, who starred in a in the 2004 film The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things with Argento when he was 7, allegedly claimed in legal documents that Argento assaulted him in a California hotel room in 2013 when he was 17 and she was 37.

“I am deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false,” Argento said in a statement obtained by the Guardian. “I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett.”

A spokesperson for Carrie Goldberg, the attorney who represented Argento in the matter, did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment.

In her statement, Argento said that her friendship with Bennett ended after Bennett allegedly “unexpectedly made an exorbitant request of money for me” amid his own “severe economic problems.” Argento said that Bourdain, who died in June of apparent suicide, “insisted the matter be handled privately… Anthony was afraid of the possible negative publicity that such a person, whom he considered dangerous, could have brought upon us.”

She said that Bourdain personally helped to pay Bennett.

Bourdain’s longtime lawyer, now charged with handling his estate, did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment.

“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. “I have therefore no other choice but to oppose such false allegations.”

The Times report noted that Goldberg characterized the money as “helping Mr. Bennett” in a letter that detailed the agreement, which did not include a non-disclosure clause. The Times noted that Bennett sued his mother and stepfather in October 2014, alleging that they had taken some of his acting earnings. (The case was privately settled in December 2014, according to the Times.) Bennett’s attorney did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment. Bennett has not spoken publicly about the allegation.

The Times report was based on legal documents that were sent anonymously to the newspaper. A spokesperson for the Times said in a statement on Tuesday: “We are confident in the accuracy of our reporting, which was based on verified documents and multiple sources. It is worth noting that Ms. Argento, her lawyer and agent were contacted repeatedly and given four days to respond to the story that published in The Times on Sunday.”

On Monday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said it was aware of the incident. A spokesperson for the department tells TIME that the department is attempting to reach out to Bennett and his representatives “in an effort to appropriately document any potential criminal allegations.”

Write to Samantha Cooney at samantha.cooney@time.com.

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