Billionaire Leon Black is fighting back against a former model’s sexual abuse allegations, claiming he was the victim of an “extortion” scheme and that his accuser “professed her love and appreciation” for him “while regularly extracting millions of dollars” for her own rent, furniture, tuition, vacations, and more.
In June, Guzel Ganieva filed a lawsuit claiming Black—perhaps best known lately as a former friend to Jeffrey Epstein and for his ties to the Museum of Modern Art—coerced her into signing a nondisclosure agreement to stay silent about his years of “sexual violence” toward her. The 69-year-old private-equity mogul, in response, released a statement indicating he “foolishly had a consensual affair” with Ganieva, and his spokesman told the media that her complaint was “nothing more than a wholesale fiction.”
Now, in a 52-page answer and counterclaim filed Monday, Black alleges he has “irrefutable documentary evidence” that shows Ganieva, 38, “embarked on a campaign of extortion” to get more funds from him in 2015, after the relationship ended.
The court document also indicates Black is working to uncover whether Ganieva “is acting alone or is working in concert with” others in bringing her complaint.
“In short, Mr. Black is guilty only of extremely poor judgment in entering into an affair with Ganieva in the first instance, in making an easy target of himself throughout their relationship by lavishing her with gifts and money, and in allowing himself to be extorted rather than immediately reporting Ganieva to law enforcement,” Black’s court filing states.
“Ganieva, on the other hand, must be held to account,” the pleading continues. “In her defamatory Twitter posts, Ganieva purports to invoke ‘#MeToo,’ and claims to have come forward to protect ‘other women.’ In reality, her demonstrable lies and extortion are cynical attempts to weaponize a critically important and long-overdue movement. In so doing, Ganieva has done a tragic disservice to the brave truth-tellers—the vast majority of accusers—who have survived sexual abuse.
“This lawsuit will reveal who Ms. Ganieva really is; what truly motivated this hit job; and whether she is acting alone or is working in concert with, or at the behest of, a third party who might wish Mr. Black ill.”
Black is countersuing Ganieva for breach of contract, as well as defamation, relating to posts to her Twitter account in March 2021 and an interview with the New York Post. The billionaire investor is seeking damages and attorneys’ fees.
In a statement, Jeanne Christensen, a partner at the firm Wigdor LLP who is representing Ganieva, told The Daily Beast, “Right out of the defense playbook, 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.”
“As he admits in [the countersuit], Black ceased paying her in March 2021 after she posted her Tweet,” Christensen said in a phone call. “Is that how an extortionist extraordinaire operates? It is the antithesis of everything he claims she plotted to do for years.”
Christensen added that Black still hasn’t provided Ganieva or her lawyers with a full copy of an alleged confidentiality agreement cited in his filing—and noted that Black’s legal team didn’t attach it to his counterclaim to prove a breach of contract.
Black’s document alleges Ganieva threatened to go public about their affair—to Black’s wife, Debra, the press, and the board of his company, Apollo Global Management—unless he paid her $100 million. “Aware that he had become the victim of a criminal extortion scheme, Mr. Black began to record his conversations with Ganieva,” the counterclaim adds. “Those recordings speak for themselves, and are devastating to Ganieva’s purported claims.”
Ganieva filed her complaint in Manhattan civil court last month, as Black was facing increasing scrutiny over his financial ties to and friendship with Epstein, the notorious sex criminal who died by suicide behind bars. This spring, amid reports he paid Epstein $158 million over a five-year period ending in 2017, Black announced he’d resign as chairman of the Museum of Modern Art and as CEO of Apollo.
While Ganieva’s defamation suit alleges Black threatened her into accepting nearly $1 million in loans in 2015 in fear he might “destroy her life,” Black claims he entered into the agreement so she would keep their affair confidential in exchange for cash. Black says that as part of the language of that NDA, which he cites in Monday’s court filing, Ganieva admitted the accusations she made against him weren’t true.
“Over the next five and a half years, Mr. Black upheld his end of the deal, paying Ganieva exorbitant sums of money pursuant to a regular monthly schedule,” Black’s filing states. “Suddenly, in March 2021—after having accepted payments month in and month out, for well over five years, totaling millions of dollars—Ganieva posted a series of tweets proclaiming, among other things, that Mr. Black had ‘sexually harassed and abused’ her ‘for years.’ Those statements were vicious, devastating—and utterly false.”
Black also denies disturbing abuse claims Ganieva made in her suit, including a July 2014 incident in which she alleges he “barged into” her apartment when she was too sick to walk and raped her. According to Black’s version of events, Ganieva’s own text messages from that day reveal “she was perfectly well,” telling him, “This is love. I need you,” and requested that he bring over a bottle of wine that evening. The morning after that alleged encounter, Black claims, Ganieva texted him to say, “It was very nice to see you last night,” and added, “I love you and thank you!!!! Xoxoxoxoxo and more love.”
Black’s filing claims that in the following weeks, Ganieva asked to meet him in person multiple times. (Experts note, however, that it’s not unusual for people who’ve experienced physical or sexual violence to continue to see their abusers.)
The billionaire also contests Ganieva’s accusation that Black plucked her out of a crowd at an International Women’s Day event in 2008 and began aggressively courting her. Instead, Black claims, they met at a private party hosted by a former colleague of Black’s and Ganieva “apparently saw a golden ticket in Mr. Black” and began pursuing him.
Black’s counterclaim alleges Ganieva had left her husband in Russia and struggled financially once she arrived in the United States. Ganieva, the filing adds, “repeatedly asked” for high-priced luxuries “totaling millions of dollars,” including an apartment on Manhattan’s tony Upper East Side, lavish vacations, Columbia University tuition, a Steinway piano, and a $40,000 commissioned portrait of herself. In 2011 and 2013, the filing alleges, Ganieva requested two $480,000 loans from Black.
Black claims that in June 2015, Ganieva swapped her romantic texts to him with urgent pleas to meet in person. “Based on statements made by Ganieva to Mr. Black, this sudden shift in tone appears to have coincided with her failure to gain legal status in the United Kingdom; whatever the reason, Ganieva became intensely focused on getting even more money and trying to procure an expensive visa,” the court filing states.
Black and Ganieva agreed to meet in New York on June 24, 2015, in what the private-equity tycoon calls “a brazen shakedown.” Multiple other meetings followed throughout summer and fall of that year, Black claims, prompting him to contact criminal defense attorneys and to arrange for his conversations with her to be recorded.
“The more, the longer I wait, the more sure I become that I actually, I prefer to go public,” Ganieva allegedly told him during one conversation. “I’m dying to talk to press about it.”
When Black asked Ganieva why she was owed $100 million, she allegedly replied that she’d been “like a wife” to him and that their bond “was like a marriage.” Ganieva also allegedly told Black that she suffered “emotionally” because of their relationship.
“When men and women in relationship for a very long time and woman doesn’t work and man works, and she gets all the stress from his work, and he makes a lot of money—usually by law—she’s entitled to half, OK?” Ganieva allegedly told Black, adding that she believed he actually owed her “a couple of billions.”
Black claims that Ganieva accused him of spreading gossip about her and of derailing her future. The billionaire’s court filing enumerates multiple instances where Ganieva shared “paranoid” claims with him, including that “people tried to drug her,” that “the children of the rich” were stalking her, and that a handful of billionaires were aligned in a “conspiracy” against her. According to Black’s answer, Ganieva claimed she was being bullied, including by a teacher at Columbia, because of her relationship with him.
In the pleading, the beleaguered billionaire shares a variety of quotes allegedly attributable to Ganieva, claiming she admitted that Black wasn’t physically or sexually abusive. When Black told her they had a consensual affair, Ganieva is said to have replied that their liaison “just lasted a little bit too long and you got a little bit too involved.”
Ultimately, Black alleges in the court filing, he entered into an NDA with Ganieva over lunch at the Four Seasons restaurant in October 2015. He says he agreed to pay Ganieva $100,000, forgive about $1 million in loans to her, and make $100,000 in monthly payments for the next 15 years. Black also claims he agreed to provide a payment of 2 million pounds to help her obtain legal status in the United Kingdom.
Black’s filing also includes some of the supposed language of their 2015 agreement: “GG [Ganieva] has made certain allegations and asserted certain claims against LBD [Mr. Black], which she made under extreme stress and which she now concedes are not true, and which allegations and claims, if made public, would damage LDB’s career, reputation and relationships with others.”
After the papers were signed, Black alleges in the answer and counterclaim, “Ganieva was elated” and “spent approximately 45 minutes finishing her lunch, sharing a Grand Marnier soufflé with Mr. Black, discussing her investment and travel plans, and laughing about the fact that she was ‘a woman of means now.”
Black’s answer and counterclaim also state that he set up a new account, called the “E Trust,” to make payments to Ganieva.
“To be very clear: the ‘E’ in ‘E Trust’ stands for ‘Extortion,’” the document alleges.