Epstein case oozes into Israeli political mud as Netanyahu, Barak trade barbs

PM highlights alleged friendly ties between political rival and tycoon embroiled in new sex scandal; Barak responds with a jab about premier's own criminal cases

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak attend a press conference at the PM's office in Jerusalem, November 21, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Disgraced US billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, arrested on fresh sex-trafficking charges Saturday, was injected into Israel’s political scrum Sunday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu highlighting Epstein’s alleged connection to rival Ehud Barak.

Epstein, a wealthy hedge fund manager who once counted as friends former US President Bill Clinton, Great Britain’s Prince Andrew, and US President Donald Trump, was taken into federal custody Saturday and is expected to appear Monday in Manhattan federal court, according to law enforcement officials.

One of the officials said Epstein is accused of paying underage girls for massages and molesting them at his homes in Florida and New York in the early 2000s.

In 2008, Epstein was sentenced to 13 months in jail after pleading guilty in a plea deal to lesser charges of soliciting and procuring a person under age 18 for prostitution, averting a possible life sentence. He is since a registered sex offender.

Jeffrey Epstein, center, is shown in custody in West Palm Beach, Florida on July 30, 2008 (Uma Sanghvi/Palm Beach Post via AP, File)

On Sunday morning, Netanyahu tweeted a screenshot of a Hebrew-language report about Epstein’s arrest and his ties to Barak, a former prime minister who has emerged as a major rival in upcoming elections.

“And the media is silent,” Netanyahu wrote.

Barak, who was prime minister in 1999-2001, last week announced a return to politics after quitting in 2013 and the establishment of his new Israel Democratic Party, vowing to defeat Netanyahu in September.

The report on the obscure News1 website claimed that one of Epstein’s top clients is the founder of the Wexner Foundation, which granted Barak $2.3 million between 2004 and 2006, and that Epstein had been a trustee in the foundation when it handed Barak $1 million in 2004.

Netanyahu’s Likud repeatedly claimed Sunday that Barak attended a party hosted by Epstein in 2016.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak speaks at a press conference announcing his return to politics ahead of national elections in September, Tel Aviv, June 26, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Barak responded Sunday with a jab at Netanyahu, who is himself embroiled in several criminal cases and faces corruption charges in three probes, pending a hearing.

“It pains me to hear that people I know get in trouble and face criminal charges. First Netanyahu, now Epstein,” he tweeted. “I wish both of them that the truth will come out.”

In an interview with 103FM radio, Barak denied attending Epstein’s party and said he wasn’t the only one on friendly terms with the tycoon.

“Donald Trump and Bill Clinton also knew Epstein,” he said, adding that the one who had introduced Epstein to Barak was the late former Israeli president Shimon Peres, an almost universally revered figure in Israeli politics.

Epstein’s arrest, first reported by The Daily Beast, comes amid renewed scrutiny of the once-secret plea deal that ended a federal investigation against him.

According to court records in Florida from the 2008 case, authorities say at least 40 underage girls were brought into Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion for what turned into sexual encounters after female fixers looked for suitable girls locally and in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world.

Some girls were also allegedly brought to Epstein’s homes in New York City, New Mexico and a private Caribbean island, according to court documents.

Saturday’s arrest came just days after a federal appeals court in New York ordered the unsealing of nearly 2,000 pages of records in a since-settled defamation case involving Epstein.

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