Billionaire investor Leon Black said he was never the target of any blackmail attempt by the late paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, in an extraordinary statement delivered on an earnings call for Apollo Global Management, his private equity firm.
The statement came as the company acknowledged that its fundraising efforts may be hit as investors await the outcome of an independent review into the matter.
Describing himself as a private person who has rarely spoken about personal matters “since living through the press coverage of my father’s suicide 45 years ago”, Mr Black said it had been a “terrible mistake” to resume his business relationship with Epstein, who was convicted in 2008 for soliciting sex from a teenage girl.
Mr Black said that between 2012 and 2017, he paid Epstein “millions of dollars annually” for tax planning and other professional services. He added that “there exists substantial documentary support for the services provided” and that Epstein’s advice was vetted by leading law firms.
“Let me be clear, there has never been an allegation by anyone that I engaged in any wrongdoing because I did not,” Mr Black said. “Any suggestion of blackmail or any other connection to Epstein’s reprehensible conduct is categorically untrue.”
Apollo has been fielding calls from investors concerned about the extent of its founder’s business ties to Epstein. One large US public pension fund said last week that it would freeze new investments with Apollo, and others have said they might follow suit if they do not receive satisfactory answers from the firm.
The $414bn asset manager said last week that, at Mr Black’s request, it was hiring law firm Dechert to “conduct a thorough review of, and independently confirm, the information that Mr Black has conveyed”.
The firm’s equity has lost about 10 per cent of its value since October 12, when it was revealed that Mr Black paid at least $50m to Epstein, whose business interests centred on a US Virgin Islands entity known as the Financial Trust Company. Epstein died in jail in August 2019 while awaiting trial on new charges of sex trafficking underage girls.
Apollo’s shares jumped nearly 2 per cent as Mr Black delivered his statement, before falling back. The firm’s co-founder Josh Harris said on Thursday that capital raising “will slow over the near term” as some investors await the outcome of the Dechert review.
Mr Black said he met Epstein around 1996, when “his network of relationships included luminaries I respected and admired, including several heads of state, heads of prominent families in finance, a US Treasury secretary, accomplished business leaders, Nobel laureates, acclaimed academicians and noted philanthropists”.
The businessman was released from jail in 2009, and Mr Black said that “like many other people I respected, I decided to give Epstein a second chance”.
Since 2018, media reports and litigation filings have portrayed Epstein as the kingpin of an alleged international sex-trafficking ring.
“Knowing all I have learned in the past two years in about Epstein’s reprehensible and despicable conduct, I deeply regret having had any involvement with him,” Mr Black said.
And he acknowledged: “This matter is now affecting Apollo.”