Asia Argento denies sex assault claim, says Bourdain paid accuser in settlement

A prominent #MeToo activist and Harvey Weinstein accuser is denying a former child star's claim that she sexually assaulted him when he a teenager.

Actress Asia Argento, 42, issued a statement Tuesday in response to a New York Times report that said she agreed to pay $380,000 to settle a complaint against her by actor and musician Jimmy Bennett, now 22.

"I strongly deny and oppose the contents of the New York Times article dated 20 August 2018, as circulated also in national and international news," Argento said in the statement. "I am deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false. I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett."

Update 2:15 p.m. EDT Aug. 22: A photo of Argento and Bennett that was obtained by TMZ and published early Wednesday appeared to contradict Argento's claim.

The image, in which both Argento and Bennett appear to be topless, was one of four taken by Bennett in 2013 during his encounter with Argento , according to TMZ.

The New York Times reported Sunday that newspaper staff received an encrypted email from an unidentified person that included a 2013 selfie of Argento, then 37, and Bennett, then 17, lying in bed.

Original report: In a notice of intent to sue that Bennett filed shortly after Argento publicly accused Weinstein of rape in October, Bennett claimed that Argento sexually assaulted him in 2013, when he was 17, the Times reported. The alleged incident occurred in a hotel room in California, where the age of consent is 18.

The complaint said Bennett was traumatized by the incident, which "hindered [his] work and income and threatened his mental health," the Times reported. Bennett, who starred in a 2004 movie with Argento and played her character's son, had viewed their bond as a "mother-son relationship," the complaint said.

In her statement, Argento said she "was linked to [Bennett] during several years by friendship only, which ended when, subsequent to my exposure in the Weinstein case, Bennett – who was then undergoing severe economic problems and who had previously undertaken legal actions against his own family requesting millions in damages – unexpectedly made an exorbitant request of money from me."

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She added that Bennett targeted her because her then-boyfriend, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, "was a man of great perceived wealth and had his own reputation as a beloved public figure to protect." She said Bourdain made the payment to settle the claim.

"Anthony insisted the matter be handled privately and this was also what Bennett wanted," Argento said. "Anthony 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."

Bourdain committed suicide in June.

Argento said the claim is part of a "long-standing persecution" of her.

"I have therefore no other choice but to oppose such false allegations and will assume in the short term all necessary initiatives for my protection before all competent venues," she said.

>> Read the full statement here

Officials with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Monday that they are "looking into" Bennett's allegations and want to speak with Bennett, The Associated Press reported.

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