Leon Black, the billionaire financier, has failed in his effort to persuade a judge that one of his top business rivals conspired with a Russian fashion model to publicise made-up allegations of sexual abuse that prompted his departure as chief executive of Apollo Global Management.
The ruling by a federal court in Manhattan on Thursday leaves Black defending himself against a separate lawsuit in which Guzel Ganieva, a former mistress, alleges that he assaulted her, bullied her and then manipulated her into silence.
It represents a victory for Josh Harris, the former Apollo executive whom Black had accused of plotting to unseat him as chief executive with the help of a “war council” assembled from senior New York business figures including public relations executive Steven Rubenstein.
“[Black’s] allegations regarding Ganieva’s relationship with Harris are conclusory, vague, indirect, clever, and cute,” US district judge Paul Engelmayer wrote in the ruling. “They are not factual, concrete, specific, declarative, or trustworthy.”
Ganieva sued Black in New York State court last June, accusing him of abusing her during their relationship and then damaging her reputation by accusing her of extortion. Both sides agree that the billionaire paid millions of dollars over several years as part of an agreement to secure her silence.
Last October, Black shot back with his own lawsuit claiming that Ganieva’s allegations were part of a conspiracy designed to enable Harris to take the helm at Apollo. Both men left the firm last year after another longtime Apollo executive, Marc Rowan, ultimately prevailed in the firm’s messy succession contest.
A representative for Harris said he was “pleased the court swiftly and fairly dismissed the case and believe the decision speaks for itself”.
Black’s lawsuit also targeted Ganieva’s lawyers at the Wigdor law firm. “When this case was first filed we immediately said that Leon Black did this in retaliation,” Jeanne Christensen, a partner at Wigdor, told the Financial Times on Thursday. “He did it because he had the money to expensive lawyers, who were willing to file a frivolous claim.”
Engelmayer said he had “narrowly” decided against imposing sanctions on Black and his legal team to punish them for naming Wigdor as a defendant in the lawsuit. He said he would lay out the reasons for that decision later on Thursday.
Susan Estrich, a feminist legal scholar who signed on to represent Black last October, vowed to appeal against the ruling and file additional lawsuits, adding: “He remains confident that those responsible will be held accountable.”