Finance

Leon Black says former Apollo protégé conspiring to ‘destroy’ him

Leon Black has accused his former lieutenant Joshua Harris of orchestrating a conspiracy to “retaliate and destroy” him after Harris was denied the chance to succeed Black as chief executive of Apollo Global Management, according to a lawsuit filed in New York on Monday.

According to the court papers, when Apollo selected Marc Rowan — another top executive — to replace Black in the wake of an independent report detailing Black’s relationship with the late paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, “Mr Harris kicked into high gear his campaign to destroy Mr Black. Like Shakespeare’s Iago, enraged by being passed over for promotion, he turned his wrath on his mentor and leader.”

Black has previously filed a complaint alleging a racketeering conspiracy and naming his former mistress Guzel Ganieva and the law firm Wigdor. Monday’s amended lawsuit adds Harris and New York public relations titan Steven Rubenstein as defendants. Harris is accused of “weaponizing Ms Ganieva to assassinate [Black’s] character”.

Ganieva has been suing Black since last spring, alleging the billionaire sexually abused her during their relationship and then damaged her reputation by publicly accusing her of extortion. Black has denied those charges, describing them as “defamatory”.

“As for Mr Harris and his cohort,” the latest court papers allege “their goal has been clear from the outset, but it was their decision to join forces with Guzel Ganieva, to make common cause with an extortionist, to use social media and modern technology to further their attempt to retaliate against Mr Black.”

According to Black, Harris convened a “war council” of three prominent public relation firms — Rubenstein, BerlinRosen and Finsbury Glover Hering — as well as multiple law firms, first to press his interest in succeeding Black and then later to “destroy Mr Black in retaliation and retribution”.

According to the lawsuit, some of these external advisers were allegedly also representing Apollo.

“The war council obsessively tracked public discussion of Mr Harris and, critically, Mr Black,” it claims.

“The public relations advisors tracked top keyword searches associated with them; the geographic source of searches; the number of hits on Wikipedia pages; even the time of day of news hits mentioning the . . . men.” 

According to the lawsuit, Evan Zemsky, an Apollo employee who worked for Harris, wrote in an email, “ONLY USE SLACK WHEN COMMUNICATING WITH JOSH,” in an attempt to keep “internal meetings and communications closely guarded secrets”.

Black accuses Harris of having long been interested in running Apollo, claiming he asked Black for the top job as far back as 2015.

After being passed over, “Mr Harris and his confederates made it their business to frame and spread Ms Ganieva’s lies, potentially extorting more money for her while destroying Mr Black”, the lawsuit claims.

A spokesperson for Joshua Harris said the claims in Black’s filing were ‘desperate and completely false’ © Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

In a statement to the Financial Times, a spokesperson for Harris said the claims in Black’s filing “are desperate and completely false”.

“The notion that Mr Harris was motivated by anything other than the best interests of the company is false — Black’s relationship with Epstein was disqualifying, plain and simple.”

They added that Harris supported Rowan’s appointment as CEO and remains the firm’s second-largest shareholder.

Apollo declined to comment.

Evan Farber, an attorney for Rubenstein, said in a previous statement that “Mr Rubenstein and his firm have had absolutely no relationship with Ms Ganieva, past, present, formal or informal.” 

Farber added: “They have never met or communicated with her or any of her representatives. These, and the rest of the claims filed by Mr Black’s attorneys, offer a concocted, ever-evolving conspiracy theory, packed with false information and are not based in reality.”

Jeanne Christensen, a partner at Wigdor who represents Ganieva, said: “Leon Black has taken victim-shaming of sexual assault victims to a stratospheric level. By blaming and shaming Ms Ganieva for her status as a sexual assault victim, Black is showing that he is no titan to be revered, but is a simple coward.”

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