Leon Black’s surprise exit from the helm of Apollo Global Management last month came just days after several directors on the private-equity giant’s board learned of accusations of sexual harassment against him by a woman he claimed was trying to shake him down over a “consensual affair,” The Post has learned.
Black was already on track to step down as Apollo CEO by the end of July when he unexpectedly announced on March 22 that he would be leaving as CEO and Chairman, effective immediately.
Black — who Apollo earlier this year revealed had paid millions to dead pedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein following the latter’s 2008 convictions for procuring an underage girl for prostitution — cited his wife’s ailing health and his own health problems for the sudden change in plans.
Neither Black nor Apollo mentioned at the time that days leading up to the resignation at least four of Apollo’s 12 board members had become aware of a series of little-noticed but explosive tweets by Güzel Ganieva, a former model who claimed to have been “forced to sign an NDA in 2015” relating to allegations that Black “sexually harassed and abused ” her, according to sources close to the situation.
In a statement to The Post, Black acknowledged that he knew Ganieva, but denied that he acted inappropriately toward her.
“I foolishly had a consensual affair with Ms. Ganieva that ended more than seven years ago,” Black said in his statement. “Any allegation of harassment or any other inappropriate behavior towards her is completely fabricated.”
He also denied that her allegations influenced his decision to step away from the company faster than planned. In January, Black had signaled he would stay on as chairman after stepping down as CEO on July 31.
“This is entirely a personal matter; this matter has nothing to do with Apollo or my decision to step away from the firm.”
Black added that he believes he was being “extorted” by Ganieva because he had allegedly “made substantial monetary payments to her, based on her threats to go public concerning our relationship, in an attempt to spare my family from public embarrassment.”
The billionaire said he has referred the matter to “the criminal authorities” at the recommendation of his counsel and welcomes “a thorough investigation.”
It remains unclear whether any of Black’s allegations against Ganieva would amount to criminal conduct and there is no indication that charges have been brought or are being considered.
Ganieva didn’t immediately respond to Black’s extortion claims. Ganieva said that in 2015, she signed a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA, aimed at keeping her quiet “under duress,” but did not elaborate on the terms or whether she received a monetary benefit.
“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,” began the first of her March 17 tweets. “I was sexually harassed and abused by him for years.
“It started in 2008 when I met with him to discuss work,” Ganieva continued. “While he understood my career aspirations, he could not understand me when I refused his sexual advances. I was bullied, manipulated, threatened, and coerced.”
Ganieva declined to provide a copy of the NDA. A second source claiming knowledge of the matter, agreed that an NDA was signed but declined to elaborate.
NDAs became a flashpoint in the #MeToo movement, with commentators arguing that they had become a tool that protected powerful men against allegations of abuse.
“I am breaking my silence now because I do not want this type of predatory behavior to continue happening to other women,” Ganieva said in her third and final tweet, which as of Thursday was still posted on Twitter.
In an exclusive interview with The Post earlier this week, prior to Black’s extortion allegations, Ganieva alleged that Black’s abuse “was over a long period of time and it was tragic.”
Ganieva, who emigrated to the US from Russia, said she met Black at a 2008 Manhattan party when she was 25 years old. He tried for some time to help her get a job, she said, but claimed he wanted favors in return.
Ganieva declined to talk more specifically about her allegations, saying she was not yet comfortable sharing additional details about her claims.
Among the directors who had learned of the tweets, the sources said, were Jay Clayton, the former chief of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, who was tapped as Apollo’s lead independent director in a January overhaul meant to improve Apollo’s corporate governance.
Clayton didn’t return a request for comment. An Apollo spokeswoman declined to comment and noted that Black is no longer with the firm.
Black’s sudden departure from Apollo was widely reported.
In January, an investigation for Apollo by the law firm Dechert found he had paid Epstein $158 million for tax advice and estate-planning services between 2013 and 2017. After the close of the investigation, Black said of his involvement with Epstein that he was only guilty of poor judgment in his dealings with Epstein, and that he had done nothing wrong.
“[There was no] evidence that I had any involvement with Mr. Epstein’s egregious conduct or engaged in wrongdoing of any kind,” he said in a letter to Apollo investors.
Four days later on March 26, Black said he would not run for re-election as chairman of the Museum of Modern Art when his term ends on June 30.