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Lawyers for Leon Black accuser seek to quit sexual assault case

Lawyers for a woman who accuses Leon Black of rape have asked a court for permission to quit the case, marking a dramatic turn in a lawsuit that the private equity billionaire has maintained was concocted by business rivals in an effort to oust him as chief executive of Apollo Global Management.

Guzel Ganieva sued Black in 2021, alleging that he picked her out of an event for International Women’s Day in 2008 and plied her with promises of job interviews at Goldman Sachs at the beginning of a relationship that quickly turned abusive.

Black has called her lawsuit “a work of fiction” and said that they had a sporadic, six-year consensual affair. Both sides agree that he paid millions of dollars over several years as part of an agreement to secure her silence over the relationship.

“As we have said all along, Ms Ganieva’s allegations . . . are demonstrably false and this lawsuit never should have been brought,” Black’s lawyer, Susan Estrich, said on Thursday.

Ganieva had been represented by Wigdor, a high-profile law firm known for acting for victims of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men.

But Wigdor partner Jeanne Christensen told a court on Wednesday night that there “has been an irrevocable breakdown of the attorney-client relationship”.

She added that Ganieva, 40, had fired Wigdor on Tuesday and now planned to represent herself in the case.

Ganieva holds a law degree but is not a licensed attorney in New York or anywhere else, Christensen added.

Wigdor’s request, if granted by a judge, would end its representation of a woman that the firm had previously characterised as “brave” victim of sexual assault who “no longer was willing to stand by and allow him to escape accountability”.

But it would leave the firm still fighting a lawsuit from Leon Black, who has accused Wigdor and Ganieva of filing false allegations in an effort to oust him as head of Apollo.

Black has quoted from contemporaneous correspondence that paints a very different picture his relationship with Ganieva.

One exchange of text messages, cited in court papers, shows Ganieva asking Black to visit her in New York and expressing affection the next day. Black has also cited flight logs he maintains prove he never took Ganieva on a private plane to Florida, as she has claimed.

In a separate lawsuit filed in federal court, Black had accused his former Apollo lieutenant Josh Harris of co-opting Ganieva into an alleged extortion campaign as part of an effort to claim the top job for himself. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit last year.

Wigdor is also representing Cheri Pierson, a woman who alleged that Black raped her at a Manhattan townhouse belonging to the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Black has asked a court to punish Wigdor for filing the Pierson lawsuit, claiming that it “abused the court system to launder frivolous, unsubstantiated, and damaging accusations”. The Pierson case is unaffected by Wednesday’s filing.

Christensen declined to comment on her request to withdraw from the case. Ganieva did not respond to a request for comment.

Ganieva was not paying hourly legal fees to Wigdor, court filings show. Instead, the firm had agreed to take payment in the form of a share of any damages she received as a result of the lawsuit.

In Wednesday’s filing, Wigdor said it would still be entitled to receive a share of any damages that Ganieva received from Black. The firm’s lien would remain in place even if she hired other lawyers or continued to represent herself.

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