Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest is reverberating in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party are calling for a criminal probe into former prime minister Ehud Barak’s personal and business ties with the accused sex trafficker, Israeli media is reporting.
Barak, 77, served as prime minister from 1999 to 2001. This month he formed a new party to run for prime minister against Netanyahu, who called for new elections in September. Once political allies, Barak and Netanyahu have been sparring on social media, with Netanyahu producing a video raising Barak’s relationship to the multimillionaire New York financier, and Ohio billionaire Les Wexner, who has given money to Barak, the Times of Israel reported.
Barak was a close friend and business partner with Epstein for years. Now some of those business partnerships are being scrutinized amid questions about Barak’s own source of wealth. The Times reported Saturday that Barak is exploring whether to sever business ties with Epstein, 66, who was charged last week with sex trafficking underage girls.
In 2015, Barak formed a limited partnership company in Israel to invest in a high-tech startup called Reporty, now named Carbyne., which develops video streaming and geolocation software for emergency services, the Times reported. A large part of the investment money was supplied by Epstein.
Barak also received $2.5 million from the Wexner Foundation in 2004 for research, which has never been fully explained, Haaretz reported. Epstein was a member of that foundation.
Speaking on Israel TV’s “Meet the Press,” Saturday, Barak stated he had no idea that Epstein’s charges related to molesting underage girls and defended his business relationship with Epstein.
“He’d served his sentence for soliciting prostitution — the indictment didn’t say she was a minor,” Barak said, adding that he wasn’t the only person who kept his friendship with Epstein after his arrest. Epstein’s circle of associates included the presidents of leading U.S. universities, philanthropists, Nobel-prize-winning scientists and politicians from both American political parties, Barak said.
“The American system itself did not label him as a persona non grata…the secretary who just resigned in the Trump administration was the prosecutor and he said he’d been negligent — so you expect me to have noticed [anything wrong]?” Barak said on the program.
Barak was referring to Alexander Acosta, President Donald Trump’s labor secretary, who resigned Friday amid a drumbeat of questions over his decision to grant Epstein and his alleged co-conspirators federal immunity on sex trafficking charges in 2008. Epstein was allowed to plead guilty to two solicitation charges involving a 17-year-old girl he had molested at his waterfront home in Palm Beach in 2006.
However, by 2011, it was widely known that Epstein’s crimes were far more serious than what he pleaded guilty to. Stories were written around the world about Epstein’s exploitation of underage girls and women, and part of the sensational coverage included reports of trips that celebrities and other wealthy, politically connected people like former president Bill Clinton took on Epstein’s private jet, which was nicknamed “The Lolita Express.’’
Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who was among those underage girls recruited by Epstein and his partner, Ghislaine Maxwell, has said that she was trafficked for sex to “academics and world leaders.’’ She has named Prince Andrew and Harvard lawyer Alan Dershowitz, as among those Epstein directed her to have sex with. Both have denied her allegation. Dershowitz was one of Epstein’s attorneys during his criminal investigation in 2006-2008.
Last week, the case drew renewed global media attention when federal prosecutors in New York unsealed an indictment against Epstein, who owns homes in Manhattan, New Mexico, Palm Beach, Paris and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Unsealing of the indictment followed the arrest of Epstein, which came eight months after the Miami Herald published Perversion of Justice, an investigation of the lenient treatment afforded Epstein despite allegations that he molested three dozen underage girls.
New York U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, at a news conference, appealed for new victims and witnesses to come forward to New York authorities.
Israeli media have been closely watching the case and, in particular, waiting for the upcoming release of documents in a 2015 civil lawsuit that was brought by Giuffre against Maxwell. A federal appeals court in New York earlier this month ruled that sealed documents must be made public in that case. Those documents could reveal names of other prominent people who were involved in Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking operation.
Barak has been linked to Epstein for years, and questions have lingered over how much he knew, if anything, of Epstein’s possible underage sex trafficking network. Giuffre has said that Epstein had recruiters all over the world, and that she was often forced to lure young girls to have sex with Epstein when they traveled in other countries.
Barak initially declined to confirm the report of the 2015 investment to Haaretz, saying he would not disclose the identities of private investors who worked with him.
“I saw a business opportunity and registered a partnership under my control in Israel,” Barak told Haaretz in comments published Thursday. “A small number of people I know are invested in it, in a commercial deal that benefited everyone. Since these were private investments, it would be inappropriate and wrong for me to reveal the identities of the investing parties.”
Netanyahu took to social media, writing: “Investigate Ehud Barak immediately.”
Barak responded on Twitter: “You don’t have to investigate — I confess. I gave a second chance, both to Epstein and to Bibi [Netanyahu]. Both are now neck-deep in criminality. I expect both to recuse themselves until the truth is ascertained.”
Netanyahu is at the center of three criminal investigations into alleged corruption, which he denies.