Finance

Apollo’s billionaire co-founder Leon Black comments on allegations of abuse

Leon Black, the billionaire co-founder of Apollo Global Management, submitted a detailed response on 19 July to a lawsuit that accused him of forcing a woman into a years-long abusive relationship, roundly denying the allegations and calling the complaint “a work of fiction”.

Guzel Ganieva, a Russian immigrant and former model, sued Black on 1 June, accusing him of defamation and alleging he raped and harassed her. She said he forced her to endure a “cycle of intimidation, abuse and humiliation”.

In court papers filed in New York County, attorneys for Black say that the married private-equity mogul was engaged in a consensual, on-and-off relationship with Ganieva for six years until she began extorting him in 2015 by threatening to go public with their affair.

During their relationship, Black gave Ganieva millions of dollars’ worth of gifts, paying the rent for her pricey Upper East Side apartment, buying her a luxury car and Steinway piano, financing lavish vacations, paying her tuition at acting school and at Columbia University, and funding a $40,000 commissioned portrait of her, according to the court filing.

In 2015, Ganieva asked for a meeting with Black, during which she threatened to go public with their relationship unless he paid her an additional large sum of money, the filing states. While Black didn’t meet her initial demand of $100m, the two did reach an agreement later that year, according to the court document.

In exchange for Ganieva signing a one-page release and confidentiality agreement, Black would forgive $1m in loans to her, pay her $100,000 and continue to make $100,000 monthly payments for 15 years, the filing says. Black also agreed to put up £2m ($2.75m) for Ganieva to use towards obtaining a British visa or passport, the court filing says.

A lawyer for Ganieva didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The 51-page document, in which Black responds to the initial complaint and makes counterclaims against Ganieva, cites excerpts from conversations between them, which he secretly recorded, and text messages. Among these are messages of love and appreciation immediately following the alleged 6 July, 2014, sexual assault.

“It was very nice to see you last night… I love you and thank you!!!! Xoxoxoxoxo and more love,” Ganieva wrote to Black the next morning, according to the filing.

Another message appears to show her initiating contact with the former Apollo chief before the alleged incident, telling him “[t]his is love. I need you…” and requesting that he bring a bottle of wine to her home that evening. In her complaint, Ganieva states that Black “barged” into her apartment against her will on the day she says he assaulted her.

Ganieva filed her lawsuit after she initially posted her allegations in a series of tweets on 17 March of this year. Her Twitter account was created that month and “appears to have been set up for the sole purpose of publishing the defamatory tweets”, according to Monday’s filing.

Black referred Ganieva’s alleged extortion to the Manhattan district attorney’s office following her tweets. The tweets went little noticed for weeks until media articles about them appeared in which Black denied having acted inappropriately towards Ganieva and said she had been extorting him. His statements prompted her defamation suit.

Black stepped down earlier this year as CEO of Apollo and handed the reins to co-founder Marc Rowan after revelations of Black’s ties to the late, disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.

An independent investigation conducted by law firm Dechert LLP found no evidence that Black was involved in the criminal activities of Epstein, who was indicted in 2019 on federal sex-trafficking charges involving underage girls.

The credit and private equity investment giant said in January that Black would formally pass the torch to Rowan on or before Black’s 70th birthday in July. Some people close to the firm had expected co-founder Josh Harris, who had been overseeing Apollo’s day-to-day operations, to become CEO.

In March, Apollo made the unexpected announcement that Rowan would take over from Black, effective immediately. Black would also cede the chair role, handing it off to the firm’s lead independent director, former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton.

In the filing on 19 July, lawyers for Black suggested others might have been involved in encouraging Ganieva to come forward, without naming anyone, stating that they would “reveal… whether she is acting alone or is working in concert with, or at the behest of, a third party who might wish Black ill”.

Write to Miriam Gottfried at [email protected]

This article is was published by Dow Jones Newswires

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