Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, who has been dogged over his ties to accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, reacted Saturday to his death, saying he wished he had never met him.
“On this day, I am thinking of his victims, the price (they paid) and the terrible things he did,” Barak told Channel 13 news.
“Like many respectable people in the US, in retrospect, I would have preferred never to have made contact with him. But from the moment things became clear, that contact was immediately severed,” said Barak.
Barak’s ties to Epstein, which go back over 15 years, have become an unexpected hot-button issue in the election campaign in Israel, after Epstein was arrested last month.
Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell Saturday morning at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Fire officials received a call at 6:39 a.m. Saturday that Epstein was in cardiac arrest, and he was pronounced dead at New York Presbyterian-Lower Manhattan Hospital.
Epstein, 66, had been denied bail and faced up to 45 years behind bars on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges unsealed last month. He had pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial on accusations of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.
Barak, who entered a business deal with Epstein in 2015, years after the American financier served time for solicitation, has called long-rumored allegations of sex trafficking by Epstein “abhorrent” and announced that he had officially cut off all business ties with him.
But he has also been linked as a frequent visitor to Epstein’s properties.
Neighbors in a building owned by Epstein’s brother said that Barak was a “frequent presence” in their New York apartment building, The Daily Beast reported Monday.
Residents told the outlet that they knew when the politician was in the building because there were “flashy cars” outside and his security detail in the lobby.
One resident said they saw Barak in the building and recognized him, and another said they were told about his presence by a doorman or another resident. Five other current or former residents said they saw his security detail around the building.
“When he wasn’t in his apartment, [the security guards] would hang out in the lobby as if it was their own living room,” a resident of 301 East 66th St. said. “They would sprawl out, they’d put all their shit on the couches, and sometimes they ate on the table there.”
A resident told the outlet they were in the elevator with Hebrew-speaking security guards and another said she regularly saw a guard posted outside an 11th-floor apartment. A further resident said they saw a security detail in the lobby on at least a dozen occasions.
The report did not clarify how the residents knew that the security detail belonged to Barak.
The building has been tied to the financier’s alleged New York trafficking ring, The Daily Beast reported.
Asked about his stays by The Daily Beast, Barak said: “Despite the fact that there was no wrongdoing on my part, and that there is not even the faintest suspicion of wrongdoing on my part, I’m not going to address these questions because in the current political environment in Israel, the mere fact of my response to such a question is churned up as spin in the political game.
“As a former prime minister I’m accompanied by bodyguards everywhere I go,” he added.
The Daily Mail’s online news site has rejected an ultimatum by Barak to retract a “libelous” article insinuating he socialized with young women at the home of Epstein.
The US-based DailyMail.com said it stood by the story “100 percent,” and denied as “absurd” Barak’s claim that the decision to re-publish the three-year-old photos of him entering the New York mansion of the disgraced billionaire was a bid to help his political rivals ahead of the elections. (The article has not appeared in the main Daily Mail tabloid newspaper in Britain.)
At a campaign launch event for his new party, Barak asserted the report was a result of the “poisoned atmosphere” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fostered over the past two decades.
The tabloid noted in its article that the women photographed also entering Epstein’s home did so “on the same day” as Barak and “within hours.” However, the Mail did not provide a clear timeline of the photos, and it was not clear whether they were taken before Barak entered, during his time there, or after he left.
If he was in the house at the same time as the women, it could contradict Barak’s earlier assertions that he “never met Epstein in the company of women or young girls.”
Barak confirmed it was him in the photos, and has admitted to visiting Epstein’s mansions and private Caribbean island, but insists he never attended parties of a sexual nature there.
Barak has also said that he was looking into dissolving his limited partnership with Epstein after it emerged that the US financier was a major investor in the Reporty startup headed by Barak in 2015, seven years after Epstein served time for solicitation.