French director Besson made 'assisted witness' in rape case

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(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 20, 2016 French director Luc Besson poses before the screening of the film "The Last Face" at the 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France; Besson, accused of rape by Belgian-Dutch actress Sand Van Roy, was placed under the status of an assisted witness

French film director Luc Besson is to be treated as an assisted witness in the court case over allegations that he raped an actress, a judge ruled Monday.

The case is the second brought against the "Fifth Element" director by the Dutch-Belgian actress Sand Van Roy, who has accused Besson, 60, of repeatedly raping her over a two-year period.

In France, assisted witness status indicates that a judge considers there is some evidence to suggest culpability, but not enough to charge the suspect.

The person can be charged at a later date if further evidence emerges against them.

Van Roy initially filed a rape claim against Besson in May 2018, a day after meeting him at the Bristol luxury hotel in Paris.

Two months later the actress, who had minor roles in Besson's "Taxi 5" and "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets", accused him of raping and sexually assaulting her on other occasions.

Prosecutors dropped the case in February 2019 citing lack of evidence, but a new investigation was opened the following October after Van Roy brought fresh charges.

Besson's lawyer Thierry Marembert hailed Monday's decision, saying it "has just confirmed once again that the accusations against Luc Besson are baseless".

Van Roy is one of nine women who have said they were assaulted or harassed by Besson.

Like Hollywood, French cinema has grappled over the past few years with "Me Too" allegations of sexual assault by powerful men in the film establishment.

France's equivalent of the Oscars, the Cesar awards, were hit by controversy last year after Roman Polanski -- wanted in the US for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977 –- won best director and best adapted screenplay.

French actress Adele Haenel, who has said she was sexually harassed by the director of her first film when she was 12, walked out of the ceremony, shouting "Shame".

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