The Daily Mail’s online news site has rejected the ultimatum by former prime minister Ehud Barak to retract a “libelous” article insinuating he socialized with young woman at the home of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The US-based DailyMail.com said it stood by the story “100 percent,” and denied 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 in a bid to help his political rivals ahead of the elections was “absurd.” (The article has not appeared in the main Daily Mail tabloid newspaper in Britain.)
Barak, who has recently launched a political comeback as the chair of the new Israel Democratic Party, threatened to sue the Mail Online for libel unless it removed the article by 7 p.m. Wednesday evening.
Responding to the ultimatum on Thursday, a letter from DailyMail.com defended its article, saying it raised “legitimate questions” about Barak’s previous claims that he never associated with young women or girls in Epstein’s company.
“DailyMail.com stands by its recent story concerning Ehud Barak’s relationship with the convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein 100 percent,” the news site told Barak in the letter.
“These photographs were originally published in 2016, without complaint, when Mr. Barak was described only as ‘an unidentified man’. The reason for the latest article is that Mr. Barak has now admitted he is the man in the photographs, which also raises a legitimate question about his statement that he ‘never met Epstein in the company of women or young girls.’
“The suggestion that the article was published maliciously in order to ‘benefit his political opponent’ is absurd. DailyMail.com has no view at all on Israel’s internal politics which are properly a matter for the Israeli people,” the letter said.
The letter also said the news outlet sought Barak for comment, but was unable to reach him.
The stories had appeared on the DailyMail.co.uk website, but the response letter came from the MailOnline’s US operation.
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 earlier this month.
Epstein currently faces federal charges of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls in the early 2000s. His indictment, unsealed last week, shows conspiracy and sex trafficking charges that could result in up to 45 years in prison if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty.
Barak, who entered a business deal with Epstein in 2015, years after the American financier served time for solicitation, called long-rumored allegations of sex trafficking by Epstein “abhorrent” and announced that he had officially cut off all business ties with him.
At a Wednesday 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.
“Over the last 24 hours something has happened in Israel, something despicable. A terrible blood libel, a baseless lie,” charged Barak, who is attempting to make a comeback after nearly a decade out of politics.
“For over 20 years, anyone who has stood against Netanyahu has been dragged through the mud and turned into a traitor,” Barak said, pointing the finger at the premier for “spreading lies.”
The letter from Barak’s lawyers also suggested the story was politically motivated. “At best, your motive was naive and irresponsible, and at worst, you intentionally and maliciously harm our client in order to harm his reputation, thereby helping his political rival,” the lawyers wrote.
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.
On Saturday, Barak 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.