Chef Mario Batali being investigated over sexual assault accusations

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Celebrity chef Mario Batali is under investigation for an alleged sexual assault dating back to 2005, police said on Monday, as a report emerged of a inquiry into to a second assault accusation against him in 2004.

FILE PHOTO: Celebrity chef Mario Batali talks during an interview with Reuters at his latest restaurant, Del Posto, in New York, U.S., April 11, 2006. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

“I vehemently deny any allegations of sexual assault,” Batali said in a statement issued by his representative Linden Zakula. “My past behavior has been deeply inappropriate and I am sincerely remorseful for my actions.”

Batali said he was not attempting a professional comeback and added, “My only focus is finding a personal path forward where I can continue in my charitable endeavors - helping the underprivileged and those in need.”

The chef, who owns numerous restaurants, has been accused of drugging and sexually assaulting an employee at one of his restaurants in 2005, according to a report on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” program that aired on Sunday.

The New York City Police Department confirmed in an email on Monday that it was investigating the 2005 allegation.

Batali is one of dozens of high-profile men who have been fired or resigned from their jobs in politics, media, entertainment and business after facing allegations of sexually harassing or assaulting women and men.

In December, after accusations by four women were reported by online food trade publication Eater New York, ABC Television Network said it had fired Batali from its cooking show, “The Chew” and Batali stepped away from his restaurant company

In the “60 Minutes” interview, CBS concealed the accuser’s face with shaded lighting. The woman said she was concerned that if her identity was revealed it would hurt her future job prospects in the restaurant industry.

“Who wants to be defined by their worst day in their life?” she asked.

Other restaurant workers told the program on the record that they had witnessed Batali inappropriately touching women.

Batali is also being investigated over a claim by another woman who said he drugged and raped her a year earlier, The New York Times reported on Monday.

Citing an unidentified source, the newspaper reported that a woman told police two months ago that she had been assaulted by Batali at his Babbo restaurant in 2004.

The Times reported that the New York City Police Department would not confirm the complaint.

The police did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment regarding the matter.

Reporting by Peter Szekely; Additional reporting by Rich McKay