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OPINION

Sideways: Shakespeare plays on Wall Street

The trend continues for ever more dramatic accusations in US legal filings.

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Lawsuits pitting Apollo founder Leon Black against a former girlfriend have been providing salacious entertainment for Wall Street for the last year, but Black’s lawyer found a new narrative angle in a legal filing on January 24.

Or rather, she tried out a number of new narrative angles, including a comparison to the villain in Shakespeare’s play Othello for Joshua Harris, a one-time contender to succeed Black as head of Apollo.

Black’s lawyer, Susan Estrich, accused Harris of orchestrating a conspiracy with Guzel Ganieva, Black’s former girlfriend. Estrich alleged that Ganieva extorted $9.2 million from Black in exchange for concealing their relationship from his family and business associates.

The filing claims that Black agreed with Ganieva in 2015 to forgive around $1 million in personal loans, pledge £2 million to help her secure immigration status in the UK and pay $100,000 a month for 15 years as long as she kept their former relationship secret.

The filing says that Ganieva abided by these terms for six years, until 2021.

“And then she did something so economically irrational and inexplicable that it would make no sense other than when understood in the context of defendants’ scheme: she walked away from the certainty of receiving $1.2 million a year for nine more years (having already received $9.2 million) and publicly attacked Mr Black, first on Twitter and then in lawsuits – lawsuits filed without even making a settlement demand first,” the filing says.

It is easy to see how a lawyer used to dealing with very wealthy clients would be astonished and confounded by an apparent act of economical irrationality

It is easy to see how a lawyer used to dealing with very wealthy clients would be astonished and confounded by an apparent act of economical irrationality or a failure to make a settlement demand.

Estrich's attempt to raise the astonishment level even further with a comparison to Shakespeare drew more attention to the dispute, along with firm denials of her allegations.

She accused Harris of conspiring with a variety of New York public relations advisers to advance Ganieva’s case in a bid to exact revenge on Black for having passed over his one-time protégée.

The filing claims that Harris acted when Marc Rowan was appointed as the new chief executive of Apollo in early 2021, with a plan for Black to stay on as chairman, despite negative publicity surrounding the latter’s association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

“Seeing his long-held dream of becoming CEO or co-CEO crushed with Mr Rowan’s ascension, and enraged that Mr Black would remain as chairman, Mr Harris kicked into high gear his campaign to destroy Mr Black. Like Shakespeare’s Iago, enraged by being passed over for promotion, he turned his wrath on his mentor and leader,” the filing says.

Spicing things up

This vivid comparison is part of a trend towards ever more dramatic accusations in US legal filings.

It is tempting to look for other Shakespearean examples that could be used to spice up what is often fairly dull competition for top jobs and money on Wall Street.

Perhaps JPMorgan’s longstanding chief executive Jamie Dimon could play the role of King Lear, while his supposed joint heirs-apparent, Marianne Lake and Jennifer Piepszak, could be cast as Lear’s daughters, Regan and Goneril.

Or Goldman’s DJ-in-chief David Solomon could take a turn as Malvolio from ‘Twelfth Night’, wearing yellow stockings, cross-gartered, rather than his usual party costume of a bandanna.

But casting fantasies should not be taken too far.

Unlike Lear, Dimon is still in his perfect mind and no one would compare JPMorgan’s CFO Jeremy Barnum to Lear’s Fool, even if Dimon and Barnum do form an entertaining double act on their quarterly earnings calls.

Perhaps it is time to despatch the Shakespeare comparisons from Wall Street with one of his most famous stage directions: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”