NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein pleaded not guilty on Tuesday (June 5) to charges of rape and sexual assault, his lawyer said, in the first cases involving the disgraced producer to be tested in criminal court since scores of accusers emerged last year.
More than 70 women have accused the Miramax film studio’s co-founder of sexual misconduct, including rape, in a series of incidents dating back decades.
The accusations gave rise to the #MeToo movement, which has seen hundreds of women publicly accusing powerful men in business, government and entertainment of sexual harassment and abuse.
Weinstein, 66, left Manhattan Supreme Court without speaking to reporters.
Defence attorney Benjamin Brafman and Mr Justin Henry, a spokesman for the prosecutor, confirmed that Weinstein had pleaded not guilty.
“Mr Weinstein has denied these crimes. He has never engaged in non-consensual sex with anyone,” Mr Brafman told reporters.
“As terrible a crime as rape is, it is equally reprehensible to be falsely accused of rape. In his view, he has been falsely accused of rape.”
Weinstein turned himself in at a New York police station on May 25, and was taken to court in handcuffs for his initial arraignment.
A judge ordered him released on a US$1 million (S$1.34 million) cash bail on condition that he surrender his US passport and agree to wear a location-tracking device.
He was ordered to remain in New York state or Connecticut.
Prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney’s office did not name the two women accusing Weinstein of sexual assault in the criminal complaint filed against him following a months-long investigation with the New York Police Department.
The details of one of the cases closely align with the account of Ms Lucia Evans, a former aspiring actress who told the New Yorker that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004.
The New York Times and the New Yorker first reported the allegations against Weinstein last year.
If convicted on the most serious charges, Weinstein could face between five and 25 years in prison.
The charges against Weinstein mark the second high-profile prosecution of a once-powerful celebrity in the #MeToo era.
Comedian Bill Cosby in April was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting a one-time friend, one of dozens of women who have accused the comedian and former TV star of sexual misconduct.
Other actresses who have publicly accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct include Uma Thurman and Salma Hayek.
“It’s long overdue for him to face this,” said Ms Gloria Allred, an attorney who represents women accusing men of sexual harassment, told reporters outside the court.
She said she has at least two clients who have accused Weinstein of sexual wrongdoing.
Once a fixture of elite Manhattan and Los Angeles society, Weinstein has been ostracised since the accusations became public.
He went to Arizona for sex addiction therapy.
The Weinstein Co’s board fired him, the company filed for bankruptcy in March, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expelled him.
In years past, the Academy had showered him with Oscars for a string of films that helped define independent cinema in the 1990s, including Shakespeare in Love and Pulp Fiction.
London’s Metropolitan Police and Los Angeles prosecutors have said they are reviewing accusations of sexual assault against him.