She said she was raped by one of the most powerful men on Wall Street. Now he says she professed her love during a years-long affair — and that he was later extorted for millions.
The private-equity billionaire Leon Black on Monday offered a formal rebuttal — at times in astonishing detail — to allegations leveled by a former model from Russia named Guzel Ganieva. Black vigorously denied Ganieva’s allegation that he assaulted her, instead admitting to an affair in a New York state court filing, and saying he used “extremely poor judgment.”
Both sides acknowledge this much: For years the married Black, then head of Apollo Global Management Inc., had a sexual relationship with Ganieva, who’s about 30 years younger than the father of four. There the accounts diverge — and open a rare window into the private life one of the most formidable figures in American finance.
Black, 69, is fighting to defend his reputation after falling from the apex of Wall Street. In March, he left Apollo after more than a year of scandal around his controversial ties to the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, whom he paid $158 million for financial advice.
In Monday’s 52-page filing, Black revealed text messages, conversations based on recordings he says he made, and other intimate aspects of his life unlike anything Wall Street has seen since the #MeToo movement started four years ago, sending shock waves through Hollywood, Washington and beyond.
“Black’s counter-claims are an obvious effort at intimidating Ms. Ganieva who will continue to aggressively litigate her claims and hold Black accountable for his heinous conduct,” Jeanne Christensen, a partner at Wigdor LLP, said in a statement.
Black met Ganieva in New York in 2008, at a party of a former colleague, the start of what he characterized in the filing as a consensual affair. (Ganieva claims in her lawsuit that she told Black when they met their relationship would not be sexual).
Black said he tried to help her get jobs, and that he paid for her apartment, vacations and school tuition at Columbia University. By Black’s account, he showered Ganieva with gifts she requested, including a Steinway piano, a $40,000 commissioned portrait of herself and “many, many gifts of cash.”
In Ganieva’s version, he set up “sham interviews,” including with Goldman Sachs Group Inc., that weren’t meant to be legitimate and only gave her loans to put her “in his debt forever.”
In 2015, Black alleges in the filing that Ganieva “threatened to go public about their relationship” and said she would hurt his personal and professional life unless he paid her $100 million.
That prompted the billionaire to start recording conversations with Ganieva and led to a so-called confidentiality and release agreement, which she signed at the Four Seasons restaurant a few months later, according to his filing.
In exchange for her releasing any claims against Black and promising not to discuss their relationship, Black said he forgave loans he’d made to her totaling about $1 million, made a $100,000 payment to Ganieva, agreed to provide monthly payments and gave her 2 million pounds ($2.74 million) so she could obtain a British passport.
After signing the papers, Ganieva spent about 45 minutes finishing lunch, sharing a Grand Marnier soufflé with Black, according to the filing. Ganieva, in Black’s account, laughed, referred to herself as “a woman of means” and later texted him — “Thank you for everything. Talk soon xoxo.”
Ganieva recalled events differently. She said last month in her filing that she was forced to take the deal and had difficulty understanding the document.
For more than five years, both parties stuck to the terms of their agreement: Black continued to make regular payments and Ganieva remained quiet about their affair.
Then in mid-March, Ganieva posted on Twitter that Black ”sexually harassed and abused” her for years.
Although I am a private person, in light of the recent media coverage, I think I have an obligation to make a statement regarding Apollo Global Management’s CEO and Chairman, Leon Black. I was sexually harassed and abused by him for years.
— Guzel Ganieva (@GuzelGanieva3) March 17, 2021
Last month she filed a lawsuit against the famed dealmaker, who’s worth more than $11 billion, seeking unspecified damages and alleging defamation and gender-motivated violence.
At the center of the argument is an incident that allegedly took place on July 6, 2014. Ganieva, in her lawsuit, described a rape where in the days prior she was so sick she could barely walk, and then Black forced her to have sex against her will.
Black disputes this. He alleges that Ganieva told him she was ill but then wrote to him on July 2, saying she was feeling “much better.” She reached out again on the day of July 6, he claims, saying: “This is love. I need you…” Black told her he was on his way back to New York City. Can I “come over and tuck you in at 10:30?” he asked. By his account, she agreed, asking him to bring a bottle of wine.
The next morning, Black said he received another message from Ganieva: “Good morning. It was very nice to see you last night. I already feel better….I love you and thank you!!! Xoxoxoxoxo and more love.”
In Ganieva’s lawsuit, she said that after the assault, she took her son and left New York to “physically distance herself from Black.”
He told a different story, claiming her student visa had expired and she needed to leave the country. His filing says that on the day she departed, Black’s birthday, she sent him flowers and texted from the plane: “I love you and miss you already.”
Ganieva’s lawsuit argues that Black is borrowing from the playbook of powerful men like Harvey Weinstein or Bill O’Reilly, in claiming he’s being blackmailed. In April, Black made statements to media, including Bloomberg, that she was extorting him. Those statements against her could impact her ability to get a job, or have future relationships, according to her complaint.
For Black, he’s confessing to the world how he gave a much younger woman millions of dollars during their affair and after to keep it quiet — in an attempt to deny accusations of abuse. He also says in his counterclaim that he wants to find out whether Ganieva is acting alone, or is working with someone who “might wish” the private equity titan ill.-Bloomberg
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