The political jousting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rival former premier Ehud Barak ramped up Tuesday when the premier published a video on social media again questioning the latter’s relationship with US billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who is accused of sex-trafficking in minors.
The video was published under the headline “What else has sex offender Epstein given to Barak?”
According to Netanyahu’s video, Epstein manages the Wexner Foundation. Forbes says he serves as a trustee, and a spokesperson for the institution told the financial news outlet that Les Wexner, founder of the organization, severed ties with Epstein over a decade ago.
The video states that Barak received a payment of $2.3 million from the foundation and has refused to answer questions on the matter.
In an interview with 103FM radio on Tuesday, Barak refused to fully address the question of a large payment he received from the Wexner Foundation, the family foundation of Epstein’s mentor Wexner, who is the founder and chairman of L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret.
“I provide consulting and research services and people pay me a lot of money for it. Like a lawyer and accountant, as a service provider, I do not have to say what,” said Barak.
When asked directly what he did for the payment of NIS 10 million (approximately $2.3 million at the time), Barak responded: “Ask the Wexner Foundation.”
Earlier on Sunday, Barak published a campaign video highlighting accusations the prime minister had received €1 million in campaign funding from an associate, accused French fraudster Arnaud Mimran.
Epstein is a wealthy hedge fund manager who counted among his friends former US president Bill Clinton, Great Britain’s Prince Andrew and US President Donald Trump, a close ally of Netanyahu.
Epstein was taken into federal custody Saturday and charged with sexually exploiting dozens of young girls.
In an indictment unsealed in US District Court for the Southern District of New York, he was charged Monday with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors.
Epstein appeared in a Manhattan courtroom on Monday and pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a maximum of 45 years in prison.
A US 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 has since been a registered sex offender.
In 2016, eight years after Epstein pleaded guilty to the charges, Barak was seen outside his New York home in photos published by the Daily Mail. The captions of the photos did not identify Barak by name, but said he had arrived at the New York residence with his own security detail.
Netanyahu’s Likud party repeatedly claimed Sunday that Barak attended a party hosted by Epstein in 2016.
On Sunday morning, Netanyahu tweeted a screenshot of a Hebrew-language report about Epstein’s arrest and his ties to Barak.
The report on the obscure News1 website claimed that Epstein had been a trustee of the Wexner Foundation when it handed Barak $1 million in 2004.
Barak, who was prime minister in 1999-2001 and retired from politics in 2013, last week announced his return to the political arena at the head of the new Israel Democratic Party, vowing to defeat Netanyahu in September.
Barak responded to Likud’s attacks on 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 on Sunday, 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 noted, adding that the person who had introduced him to Epstein was the late former president Shimon Peres, a widely revered figure in Israeli politics.
Epstein’s arrest 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.
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.