© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Leon Black is pictured here in Beverly Hills, California, U.S. May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Leon Black, the billionaire who until recently led private equity firm Apollo Global Management (NYSE:) Inc, on Monday strongly rejected claims by a Russian model who accused him of defamation and subjecting her to sexual violence, calling her accusations “a work of fiction.”
Black also filed his own defamation lawsuit accusing the woman, Guzel Ganieva, of running a “blatant” scheme to extort him of at least $100 million in exchange for keeping quiet.
Ganieva’s lawsuit and Black’s countersuit in a New York state court in Manhattan seek unspecified damages.
“Right out of the defense playbook, Black’s counterclaims are an obvious effort at intimidating Ms. Ganieva who will continue to aggressively litigate her claims and hold Black accountable for his heinous conduct,” Ganieva’s lawyer Jeanne Christensen said in an emailed statement.
Black, 69, stepped down as Apollo’s chief executive and chairman this year after an independent review by the Dechert law firm said he paid the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein $158 million for tax and estate planning.
The review found Black was not involved with Epstein’s criminal activities. Black said at the time he deeply regretted his involvement with Epstein.
In her June 1 lawsuit, Ganieva accused Black of lying by denying claims she made on Twitter that he “sexually harassed and abused” her “for years,” when he later told media he had “foolishly had a consensual affair” with her and that she extorted him.
Ganieva also said Black subjected her to numerous instances of unwanted sexual conduct, including an alleged July 2014 rape in her apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
In Monday’s filings, Black’s lawyers said Ganieva’s complaint was “rife” with accusations that were “scandalous, prejudicial, irrelevant, and intended only to feed breathless tabloid headlines and destroy Mr. Black’s reputation.”
They asked a judge to strike dozens of excerpts, including that Black “derived pleasure” from humiliating and debasing Ganieva, and by accusing her of extortion borrowed “the playbook of scores of wealthy and powerful men” facing similar accusations.
Black’s lawyers also rejected Ganieva’s rape claim, calling the encounter a “pre-planned romantic evening” where he showed up with a bottle of wine and tucked her into bed.
“The complaint in this case is a work of fiction,” the lawyers said.
Ganieva, in her late 30s, said Black picked her out of a crowd at a 2008 International Women’s Day event, and later accompanied her to top restaurants, cultural events and parties.
Black’s lawyers said the first meeting was at a private party, and that Black’s subsequent 6-1/2-year relationship with Ganieva was “casual, episodic, and completely consensual.”
The lawyers said that after Ganieva began what they allege was her extortion campaign, Black agreed in October 2015 to pay her $100,000 a month for 15 years. They said the payments stopped after Ganieva posted her tweets in March.
“Mr. Black is guilty only of extremely poor judgment” by having an affair with Ganieva, making himself a target by lavishing her with gifts and money, and allowing himself to be extorted, his lawyers said.