Kennedy nephew accused of raping his assistant

William Kennedy Smith, who more than a decade ago was acquitted of sexual assault charges in a trial in West Palm Beach that became a tabloid frenzy, is facing fresh controversy following allegations from a former personal assistant that he raped her in 1999 in his apartment in Chicago.

William Kennedy Smith, who more than a decade ago was acquitted of sexual assault charges in a trial in West Palm Beach that became a tabloid frenzy, is facing fresh controversy following allegations from a former personal assistant that he raped her in 1999 in his apartment in Chicago.

Mr Kennedy Smith, 43, a doctor who is the nephew of Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and a son of a former United States Ambassador to Ireland, Jean Kennedy Smith, yesterday issued a strong denial of the new charges calling them, "outrageous, untrue and without merit".

In a statement issued by the Centre for International Rehabilitation, which Dr Kennedy Smith heads, he added that, "unfortunately, my family and my personal history have made me unusually vulnerable to these kinds of allegations". He said his accuser had demanded $3m (£1.7m) in compensation.

The woman, Audra Soulias, filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago. It states that she is looking for damages from Mr Kennedy Smith of $50,000 and claims that he forced her to have sex with him after an evening of drinking five years ago.

Ms Soulias, 28, told a local television station in Chicago: "He dragged me into his house, dragged me upstairs in his bedroom where he raped me." She worked for Dr Kennedy Smith at the centre, which is committed to outlawing land mines, from October 1997 until June 1999. She alleges that the assault occurred in January 1999 after her birthday party.

The suit describes Dr Kennedy Smith crashing the party for Ms Soulias. At the party, he "encouraged the plaintiff and others to consume excessive amounts of alcohol, which he purchased", it claims. The West Palm Beach trial of Dr Kennedy Smith gripped the nation's tabloid newspapers for several weeks and has often been described as the first in an era of trials and crime stories to attract almost 24-hour media and television attention, surpassed soon afterwards by the OJ Simpson murder case.

On that occasion, Dr Kennedy Smith was accused of luring a young woman he had met at a nightclub to the Kennedy clan estate in West Palm Beach and then forcing her to have sex with him on its grounds. He claimed the sex was consensual and, after deliberating for only an hour, the jury in the case acquitted him. The mansion and estate has since been sold by the family.

A lawyer for Ms Soulias said yesterday that she had not come forward earlier with her suit because she was afraid of being in the public eye. He also admitted that the couple had had a longer sexual relationship after the alleged rape.

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