ROME, May 22 — A well-known Italian paparazzi photographer accused French film star Gerard Depardieu of punching him in Rome yesterday, media reported, with the actor’s lawyer saying he had been defending a companion.

Italian daily Il Messaggero quoted the photographer Rino Barillari as saying the 75-year-old actor punched him three times in the face when he tried to photograph the star.

Barillari, 79, dubbed the “king of paparazzi”, told the paper he approached the actor and a woman at Harry’s Bar on the chic Via Veneto on Tuesday afternoon.

“Mamma mia, he is fat. He punched me three times in the face,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

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“First I’m going to hospital, then I’m going to deal with him. I’m going to file a complaint to the police.”

He said the woman, Depardieu’s partner Magda Vavrusova, initially tried to block him from taking photographs.

In a statement released later, the couple’s lawyer Delphine Meillet cited Vavrusova as saying the photographer had pushed her violently and touched her chest with his arm.

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“It still hurts. He was extremely violent,” it quoted Vavrusova as telling police when she filed a complaint.

Meillet said Depardieu slipped and fell on Barillari while trying to get between him and Vavrusova.

The lawyer said Barillari was “well known as much for his photos as for his aggressive methods”.

Reached by telephone, Barillari told AFP he was in hospital and could not talk.

During a long career that started young, Barillari has photographed numerous stars including Elizabeth Taylor and Ingrid Bergman in the Italian capital.

Depardieu, a giant of French cinema, has faced scandals over recent years, including a series of sex assault charges that he denies.

He is scheduled to go on trial in October over accusations of sexual assault against two women. — AFP