Home Arts Leon Black faces questions from US Senate Finance Committee over Jeffrey Epstein and his $1bn art collection

Leon Black faces questions from US Senate Finance Committee over Jeffrey Epstein and his $1bn art collection

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Billionaire art collector and Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) trustee Leon Black is being investigated by the US Senate Finance Committee over his financial ties to Jeffrey Epstein and some $158m in payments Black allegedly made to the late sex offender, some of which may have been in connection with Black’s $1bn art collection. The committee has given Black until 1 September to answer questions about his financial ties to Epstein, but it is unclear what will happen should Black refuse to comply.

A letter sent to Black in July by the committee’s chairman, Senator Ron Wyden, details how Black has purportedly been providing the committee with “inadequate responses” that Wyden claims “only raise more questions than answers” and fail to address a number of tax issues that the senator says his staff have uncovered over the course of the investigation, which began in June 2022.

The committee is seeking more information about transfers from Black to Epstein in exchange for “tax and estate planning matters”. In the letter, Wyden notes that the committee questions whether the funds Epstein received should have been classified as a gift for federal tax purposes, and whether billions of dollars of Black’s assets are being improperly shielded from his taxable estate. The committee is particularly interested in Epstein’s role in structuring trusts and other transactions designed to avoid taxes on as much as $2bn that Black transferred to his children, Wyden writes. The probe is part of a larger investigation into how “ultra-high net worth persons avoid or evade paying federal taxes, including gift and estate taxes”.

The letter claims that in August 2022, Black’s lawyers indicated that, along with tax and estate planning, Epstein had provided Black with “substantial advice” about his private art collection, which Wyden writes was confirmed by Black’s lawyers to be worth more than $1bn. The committee was told that Epstein had helped Black form a “new art partnership” and aided with the sale of objects from Black’s collection. When the committee submitted a set of questions digging into the details on the connection between Epstein and Black’s personal art collection, Black refused to answer, Wyden writes.

In the July letter, Wyden gives Black a deadline of 1 September to answer more than a dozen questions about his business arrangements with Epstein. A few of these directly concern Black’s art collection, including enquiries into the art partnership formed with Epstein’s help, any art loans that involved Epstein and Epstein’s role in transactions involving work exceeding $1m in value.

Black’s representatives said in a statement that Black has “cooperated extensively” with the Senate Finance Committee and that all transactions referenced in Wyden’s letter were legal. “Mr. Black has fully paid all taxes owed to the government,” they said.

Black has come under fire for his relationship with Epstein since the disgraced financier was found dead by suicide in a Manhattan jail in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges. In March 2021, Black stepped down as Apollo Global Management’s chief executive and chairperson after an independent investigation found that he had paid more than $150m to Epstein between 2012 and 2017, well after Epstein pleaded guilty (in 2008) to soliciting prostitution from a teenage girl in Florida.

As MoMA board chair, Black did not seek re-election after more than 150 artists signed a 2021 open letter demanding that he be removed from his post; he remains a trustee of the museum. Just days before Wyden sent the Senate Finance Committee letter, it was revealed that Black would pay $62.5m as part of a settlement with the US Virgin Islands to shield him from legal claims related to Epstein’s sex-trafficking operations in the archipelago. Black is currently facing sexual-assault allegations in three lawsuits, two from women who claim he raped them at Epstein’s Upper East Side mansion. Black has denied the allegations.

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