Apollo CEO Leon Black seeks outside review of his ties with Epstein

·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Leon Black, Chairman, CEO and Director, Apollo Global Management, LLC, speaks at the Milken Institute's 21st Global Conference in Beverly Hills
FILE PHOTO: Leon Black, Chairman, CEO and Director, Apollo Global Management, LLC, speaks at the Milken Institute's 21st Global Conference in Beverly Hills

(Reuters) - Apollo Global Management Inc <APO.N> and its chief executive, Leon Black, have agreed to appoint outside counsel to review his ties with late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, the buyout firm said on Wednesday.

At a board meeting on Tuesday, Black asked that the board's conflicts committee, made up of independent board members, retain outside counsel to conduct a "thorough review" of the information he had shared about his relationship with Epstein, Apollo said in a regulatory filing.

The board committee has appointed law firm Dechert LLP to conduct the review.

Black told Apollo's fund investors in a letter last week he regretted having had links to Epstein but denied any wrongdoing or inappropriate conduct related to his business and social relationship with Epstein.

Apollo's stock was up about 5.4% at $42.40 Wednesday afternoon. The shares had dropped 13% last week.

"This news is perhaps more positive since Black initiated this review, which signals a level of confidence," said Jefferies analyst Gerald O'Hara. "I think the damage to the stock has been done and investors are in a bit of a holding pattern in the near term to get some clarity to remove that overhang."

Black's letter was in response to a New York Times story that reported he had wired between $50 million and $75 million to Epstein as long ago as 2008.

In the letter, Black said Epstein provided "professional services" to his family partnership and related family entities, involving estate planning, tax and philanthropic advice.

Epstein, who was charged by federal prosecutors with sex trafficking last year, committed suicide in his New York City jail cell in August 2019, before his trial.

On Wednesday, the $57 billion Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) said it would be not consider any new investments in Apollo funds after speaking with the buyout firm about Black's involvement with Epstein. PSERS had invested $225 million in Apollo's latest buyout fund, Apollo Investment Fund IX, which had raised $24.7 billion from investors, according to data provider Pitchbook.

"After that October 13th phone conversation, PSERS’ Investment team informed Apollo that it will not consider any new investments at this time. PSERS is closely following the ongoing legal issues and the newly launched internal Apollo investigation," PSERS spokesman Steve Esack said in a statement.

The Financial Times was the first to report PSERS' comment.

The Apollo filing quoted Black as having said Epstein never did any business with Apollo.

"In light of continued attention, it is in the best interests of Apollo, our employees, our shareholders and our LPs for there to be an independent review," Black said in the filing.

"Proceeding in this manner is the best way to assure all of our stakeholders that they have all of the relevant facts, and I look forward to cooperating fully."

Black and two other Apollo co-founders, Joshua Harris and Marc Rowan, control 52.9% of the private equity firm through six intermediate holding companies, according to regulatory filings.

"From a common sense perspective, it's hard not to have concerns about whether directors of a controlled company are going to exercise true independence when investigating allegations against the controlling party,” said Eric Talley, a Columbia Law School professor and corporate governance expert.

Talley said there are a number of ways to determine independence – by using standards set forth by listing exchanges or the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission – but that courts have found it means that directors cannot be implicated themselves, or dominated or controlled by the people who are implicated.

Apollo's conflict committee board members include: Michael Ducey, a former chief executive of Compass Minerals International Inc <CMP.N>, Alvin Krongard, a retired CIA executive director, and Pauline Richards, a former chief operating officer of Trebuchet Group Holdings Limited (formerly Armour Group Holdings Limited), a Bermuda-based reinsurance company.

(Reporting by Anirban Sen in Bengaluru and Chibuike Oguh and Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Howard Goller, Steve Orlofsky and Tom Brown)