Federal prosecutors 'open criminal investigation into Harvey Weinstein'
Federal prosecutors in New York have opened a criminal investigation into sexual assault accusations against Harvey Weinstein, it has been reported, marking a significant escalation in the proceedings against the disgraced Hollywood producer. More than 80 women have come forwards to accuse Weinstein of sexual assault and, in some cases, rape, since the scandal first broke in October 2017. On Wednesday Gwyneth Paltrow, one of the first women to accuse Weinstein, told a radio show that Brad Pitt, her then boyfriend, had confronted him in 1995 after Weinstein lured her to his hotel room, saying: “If you ever make her feel uncomfortable again, I’ll kill you.” Criminal investigations have been opened by police in New York, Los Angeles and London. But, according to the Wall Street Journal, prosecutors have grown frustrated at the failure to charge Weinstein, and are exploring whether they can prosecute on a federal level – something exceptionally rare in sexual assault cases, except trafficking. Gwyneth Paltrow with Harvey Weinstein, after winning an Oscar with Shakespeare In Love - which Weinstein produced For a crime to be considered on a federal level, prosecutors must be able to prove that a victim was lured across state lines, for the purpose of committing a sex crime. But federal prosecutors are able to bring in, to a greater degree than state prosecutors, proof of other sexual assaults, to show a defendant’s propensity for a sex crime. Weinstein’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said he has met with federal prosecutors in Manhattan “in an attempt to dissuade them from proceeding” and will continue to meet with them in coming weeks. “Mr Weinstein has always maintained that he has never engaged in nonconsensual sexual acts,” said Mr Brafman. Harvey Weinstein with his estranged wife, Georgina Chapman. The British fashion designed has filed for divorce from Weinstein A spokesman for the federal prosecutors' office in Manhattan declined to comment, but a federal investigation, if it has begun, would give a significant push to a case which has floundered for months and been riven with political fighting. Michael Brock, who investigated Weinstein as a supervisor for the New York police department’s Special Victims Division, said before retiring last year that he thought the case was dragging on too long. “How much longer can they let it linger?” he said. “We believe he should be arrested.” Two NYPD officials told the paper that the NYPD is prepared to arrest Weinstein, who has a home in the city but is believed to be still in rehab in Arizona. The police are believed to be waiting for the green light from Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan district attorney, whose office has been criticised for deciding not to charge Weinstein in 2015 for a sexual-assault allegation brought against him by an Italian model. Danny Frost, a spokesman for Mr Vance’s office, defended that decision, saying in March: “Police evaluate arrests based on probable cause, whereas prosecutors must make sure they can prove to a jury that every element of a criminal statute was violated beyond a reasonable doubt - a much higher standard.” Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York state, then directed the New York attorney general to review how Mr Vance’s office and the NYPD handled the 2015 investigation. Mr Vance, in a letter to the governor, called the review “an unwarranted intrusion by an elected executive into a charging decision by an independent prosecutor.” Mr Frost said this week that the investigation was at “an advanced stage”.