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Leon Black accused of sexual harassment

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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.

A screenshot of the tweet.
Twitter

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.

Leon Black speaking  at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills in 2016.
Leon Black speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills in 2016.
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

“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.

A screenshot of the tweet.
Twitter

“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 has denied the allegation made by Ganieva.
Black has denied the allegations made by Ganieva.
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

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.



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Glasses retailer Warby Parker eyeing IPO as soon as this year

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Hipster glasses retailer Warby Parker is eyeing an initial public offering.

The 11-year-old business, which started out as an e-tailer before rolling out some 130 stores across the US, is considering an IPO as early as this year, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.

The New York-based company has amassed a huge customer following by offering less expensive prescription glasses. Warby Parker raised $120 million in its most recent funding round giving it a $3 billion valuation, according to the report.

“We’ve always explored various financing opportunities in both the debt and equity markets,” the company said in a statement. “To date, we have successfully and deliberately raised money within the private market on favorable terms and have plenty of cash on our balance sheet. We’ll continue to make strategic decisions in line with our commitment to sustainable growth.”

Founded by college buddies Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal, who met at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Warby Parker has attracted some large investors including the mutual fund company, T. Rowe Price.

It turned it first profit in 2018, Gilboa told The New York Times at the time.

Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal
Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal
Brian Ach/Getty Images

Customers can get prescriptions through their apps on their smartphones and use cameras to pick out frames. The company also has an optical lab in Sloatsburg, NY where it produces lenses.

While Warby Parker is not the least expensive option, it beats Costco in a recent comparison with Costco charging as little a $126 for a pair of prescription glasses compared with Warby Parker’s least expensive pair at $95.

“As consumer walk into a LensCrafters or Sunglass Hut, they see 50 different brands of glasses but don’t realize that all those brands are owned by the same company that owns the store that they’re standing in, that probably owns the vision insurance plan they’r using to pay for those glasses,” Gilboa said in a recent CNBC interview.

“And so, it’s no surprise that a lot of those glasses are marked up 10 to 20 times what they cost to manufacture,” he said.

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Dogecoin hits new high boosted by DogeDay hashtags

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Dogecoin prices hit an all-time high on Tuesday, with a market capitalization above $50 billion, after social media fans used hashtags to fuel a rally in the meme-based cryptocurrency.

An 8,000 percent price surge this year has seen Dogecoin, which was launched as a satirical critique of 2013′s cryptocurrency frenzy, overtake more widely-used cryptocurrencies like Tether to become the fifth-largest coin.

While Dogecoin, whose logo features a Shiba Inu dog at the center of the meme, a represents only a fraction of bitcoin’s $1 trillion value, it can be traded on crypto exchanges and more popular mainstream trading apps.

“The Doge rally represents an interesting convergence,” said Diana Biggs, CEO of crypto start-up Valour, after Dogecoin’s price soared by more than five-fold in the last week to a record 42 cents, according to CoinMarketCap.

“A meme coin created as a joke for early crypto adopters whose community found that kind of thing to be fun, with now a new generation of retail investors for whom memes are a native language,” Biggs added.

Dogecoin fans used the hashtags #DogeDay and #DogeDay420 to post memes, messages and videos on Twitter, Reddit and TikTok, referring to the informal April 20 holiday to celebrate cannabis which is marked by smoke-ins and street parties.

“GIMME THAT DOGECOIN LAMBO!!! #DogeDay” one tweeted, referring to the Lamborghini car popular in crypto culture.

Dogecoin’s rise has come amid a surge in online trading of stocks and crypto by retail investors, stuck at home with extra cash because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has not coincided with a growth in usage of the coin for payments or in commerce.

The same trend has spurred a boom in usage of online trading apps like Robinhood, and also fueled the social-media driven rally in GameStop stock that pitted retail investors against hedge funds earlier this year.

“It’s an extension of the same phenomenon that has led Tesla stock to be valued well beyond fundamentals and more recently to the GME (GameStop) short squeeze,” said Ajit Tripathi, head of institutional business at decentralised finance startup Aave.

Like other cryptocurrencies, Dogecoin’s price is heavily influenced by social media users including Tesla chief Elon Musk, whose tweets on the cryptocurrency in February sent its price soaring over 60 percent.

“If this goes as planned and everybody including Mr. Musk go ahead and just pour money into Doge on April 20th all at once Doge will reach prices that originally were not even conceptual,” a TikTok user said in a video promoting the coin.



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Amazon is opening a beauty salon in London

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Amazon is opening a hair salon in London — its latest odd lurch into new businesses as the pandemic continues to fuel the e-commerce giant’s torrid growth.

The Amazon Salon, unveiled in a Tuesday blog post, will occupy a two-story, 1,500-square-foot space in Spitalfields, a trendy neighborhood in East London that is also home to Amazon’s UK headquarters, which houses about 5,000 employees.

Indeed, the new salon, which will be open seven days a week, initially will only cater to Amazon workers. Members of the public will be able to make bookings in “the coming weeks” by calling, emailing or visiting the salon, the company says.

“This will be an experiential venue where we showcase new products and technology,” Amazon said in a blog post on Tuesday, adding that there are no plans to open other salons.

That will include making Amazon’s Fire tablets available at each station, allowing customers to use augmented reality technology to see what they look like as a platinum blonde, brunette or with highlights, the company said.

The salon is located at Amazon’s UK headquarters, which houses about 5,000 employees.
The salon is located at Amazon’s UK headquarters, which houses about 5,000 employees.
Amazon

The salon will also test new “point-and-learn” technology, where customers can point at a product they are interested in on a display shelf and the relevant information, including brand videos and educational content, will appear on a display screen.

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