Oct 13, 2020 - Economy

Leon Black still won't answer questions about Epstein payments

Illustration of Jeffrey Epstein looking out behind torn 100 dollar bill

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Rick Friedman/Corbis/Getty Images

458 days. That's how long it's been since Axios first asked Apollo Global Management CEO Leon Black to explain why he donated $10 million to Jeffrey Epstein's charity after he pleaded guilty to felony prostitution with an underage girl. Still no reply.

1 day: That's how long it's been since the New York Times reported that the $10 million donation was just the tip of an inexplicable iceberg.

The state of play: It now appears that Black wired Epstein at least $50 million in the decade after Epstein's conviction, only ending the relationship in 2018 after a "fee dispute."

  • By 2018, anyone with a working Google knew about the serious allegations against Epstein — many of which became public during the 2016 presidential campaign because of Epstein's ties to both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.
  • And Black certainly knew about the earlier guilty pleas, since it appeared to be the reason Epstein preemptively departed the board of Black's family foundation in 2007 (despite some paperwork discrepancies).

Why it matters: Black runs one of the world's largest and most powerful investment firms.

  • He has steadfastly maintained that none of his Epstein payments had anything to do with Apollo, reiterated in a letter sent yesterday to limited partners in Apollo funds (read letter here).
  • But that doesn't address the fundamental issue of why Black continued to engage with Epstein. Was it just bad judgement, turning a blind eye or giving Epstein the undeserved benefit of the doubt? Was it a complete and total failure of due diligence? Or was it an attempt at self-preservation?

Asking that last part may strike some as unfair, particularly given that Black's LP letter claims that his family accompanied him on his only trip to Epstein's private island and that his visits to Epstein's townhouse were caused by Epstein's lack of a separate office.

  • But Black has steadfastly refused to specify exactly what Epstein did for him — save for generalities about things like tax and estate planning. Remember that Epstein was neither a certified accountant nor a broker-dealer. And Leon Black could have hired any advisors he wanted.
  • In January Black was interviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek for an extensive cover story, but Epstein was the one topic he refused to address.
  • Black did say in his LP letter that he'll cooperate with any and all investigations, including an ongoing one in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Investor reactions: None of this has had a lasting negative impact on Apollo's share price or ability to raise private funds, although perhaps that's changing as Apollo shares are down around 10% from their Friday close.

The bottom line: Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Black's continuing refusal to discuss these issues, save for under subpoena, has evolved from perplexing to problematic. Again, 458 days and counting.

Go deeper: Axios Re:Cap spoke with Matthew Goldstein, the NY Times biz reporter who co-authored yesterday's report. Listen via Apple, Spotify, or Axios.

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