Paparazzi photographer accuses French actor Depardieu of Rome assault

Actor Depardieu arrives for news conference at 66th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin

By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) - A veteran Italian paparazzi photographer has accused Gerard Depardieu of assaulting him in central Rome after he took photos of the French actor and his partner at a famed restaurant.

Rino Barillari, 79, told Italian media he went to Harry's Bar on Via Veneto when he heard that Depardieu was having lunch there on Tuesday with friends.

Barillari started taking photos before retreating to the street outside, after Depardieu's entourage repeatedly asked him to leave.

The actor's partner, Magda Vavrusova, followed him to remonstrate, Barillari said, with Depardieu rushing out soon afterwards and punching him three times, leaving him with a cut to his head that needed hospital attention.

"I reported Depardieu, a bully (to the police). He can't believe he can get away with it," Barillari told Il Messaggero newspaper.

Police said they were looking into the incident.

Barillari's account differs significantly from that of Depardieu and Vavrusova, who said he had shoved them around.

"The photographer pushed me by touching my torso and chest with his arm," Vavrusova said in a statement sent by her lawyer Delphine Meillet, adding she had also reported Barillari to police.

"Faced with the violence of the situation, Gerard Depardieu, who intervened between the paparazzi and his partner, fell and slipped on him," the statement said.

In an interview with la Repubblica newspaper, Depardieu blamed the incident on Barillari.

"He started pushing, he was also pushing Magda, and ... I completely lost my balance and fell," he said.

Gianni Riotta, a well-known Italian journalist who witnessed the altercation disputed Depardieu's version of events.

"That is a bald lie. He pummelled Barillari," Riotta told Reuters, adding that he had given police a statement describing how Depardieu had attacked the photographer.

"With surprising agility, I saw Depardieu charge out of the restaurant towards the photographer and then he punched him," adding that the attack left Barillari "bleeding profusely".

Depardieu, one of France's top movie stars, has been at the centre of a growing number of scandals in recent years, including numerous allegations of sexual assault, that have tarnished his legacy.

He is due to go on trial in Paris in October for alleged sexual assaults against two women during a 2021 film shoot. He has denied any wrongdoing.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante and Crispian Balmer; Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon in Paris; Editing by Bernadette Baum)