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Leon Black accuses former Apollo lieutenant of attempted ‘coup’

Leon Black has accused his former top lieutenant Josh Harris of exploiting a scandal involving the late Jeffrey Epstein to launch an “attempted . . . coup and smear campaign” in an effort to succeed Black as chief executive of Apollo Global Management.

The claims, which a spokesperson for Harris described as “unhinged”, were detailed in a motion filed in New York state court on Tuesday.

The filing is part of Black’s attempt to obtain telephone records of his former mistress Guzel Ganieva, who has filed a civil lawsuit accusing the billionaire of sexually abusing her during their relationship and then damaging her reputation by publicly accusing her of extortion.

Lawyers for Black, Apollo’s former chief, have previously asked for details of any contact that Ganieva’s lawyers may have had with businessmen including Harris, who until last year was one of Apollo’s three top partners. But in Tuesday’s filing they went further, claiming Harris sought to oust Black from Apollo.

Their filing describes a fractious atmosphere at the top levels of the $481bn group during Black’s final months in charge. Harris had “chafed under [his] relationship” with Black, who was “first among equals” in Apollo’s ruling triumvirate, the lawyers said in the filing.

In 2020, they added, Harris “found and exploited a lever in an attempt to oust Mr Black: allegations that [Black] had paid financial management fees to convicted felon and notorious sexual offender Jeffrey Epstein.” Epstein died by suicide in 2019 as he awaited trial on charges of sex trafficking minors.

According to Black’s lawyers, Harris enlisted Steven Rubenstein, a public relations executive who was on retainer with Apollo at the time, to develop “talking points” about Epstein and “help seed harmful stories about Mr Black”.

“Harris . . . saw an opportunity to take over at Apollo,” they added.

A representative for Black declined to comment to the Financial Times.

In a statement to the Financial Times, a representative for Harris said the claims in Black’s filing “are baseless, untrue, and — frankly — unhinged”.

The statement added: “Mr Harris does not know Ms Ganieva, has never met or spoken with her or anyone representing her, has no financial or any other dealings with her or her representatives, and had no involvement of any kind in the filing of any claims by her.”

Evan Farber, an attorney for Rubenstein, said in a 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.”

Apollo said it had nothing to do with the lawsuits between Black and Ganieva and added: “This is an entirely personal matter.”

Black announced his departure as Apollo’s chief executive last January, after an investigation by law firm Dechert found he had paid $158m to Epstein over a five-year period ending in 2017. His successor was named as Marc Rowan, another senior Apollo partner who for years had been Harris’s peer.

According to Black’s filing, Harris became “enraged” at that decision, and “forged ahead with a malicious campaign to take Mr Black down”.

Ganieva filed her lawsuit against Black last June. “Her false claims are seeded and amplified by Mr Rubenstein — the same PR guru who already has done Mr Harris’ work in spreading rumours about Mr Black’s alleged sexual misconduct,” Black’s lawyers claimed.

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