Jeffrey Epstein threatened to expose Bill Gates over an alleged affair he had with a Russian bridge player in her 20s, according to reports in the US.
Convicted paedophile Epstein, who killed himself in jail in 2019, wanted Mr Gates to support a charity he had set up.
Mr Gates, 67, refused to do so, and Epstein threatened to expose the affair unless he co-operated, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“Mr Gates met with Epstein solely for philanthropic purposes,” a spokeswoman for the Microsoft co-founder said.
“Having failed repeatedly to draw Mr Gates beyond these matters, Epstein tried unsuccessfully to leverage a past relationship to threaten Mr Gates.”
She added: “Mr Gates had no financial dealings with Epstein.”
Gates met Antonova at a bridge tournament
The technology billionaire was a keen bridge player, having learned the game from his parents, and he met Mila Antonova, who had founded a bridge club in the Bay Area, at a tournament in 2010.
She described their encounter in a video. “I didn’t beat him, but I tried to kick him with my leg,” she recalled.
Ms Antonova then proposed a venture in which she would offer online bridge lessons.
Epstein was seen as a potential investor and she was introduced to him by Boris Nikolic, a Gates confidant and top science adviser.
Ultimately Epstein declined to invest in the project, BridgePlanet, following their meeting at Epstein’s townhouse in November 2013.
Instead, she became a computer programmer, with Epstein picking up the cost of her training.
“Epstein agreed to pay, and he paid directly to the school. Nothing was exchanged. I don’t know why he did that,” she told the Journal.
“When I asked, he said something like, he was wealthy and wanted to help people when he could.”
She has declined to comment on Mr Gates and added she did not know who Epstein was when they met.
“I had no idea that he was a criminal or had any ulterior motive. I just thought he was a successful businessman and wanted to help.
“I am disgusted with Epstein and what he did.”
Having made the introduction to Ms Antonova, Mr Nikolic also held discussions with Epstein over his plans to set up a charitable fund worth billions of dollars with JPMorgan.
According to court papers, seen by the Wall Street Journal, Epstein saw the fund – which required a minimum $100 million donation from individuals – as a way of rehabilitating his reputation.
But the perceived support of Mr Gates was crucial for the venture to succeed.
In his typo-ridden messages to potential backers, Epstein made much of Mr Gates’s potential involvement.
“In essence this [fund] will allow Bill to have access to higher quality people, investment, allocation, governance without upsetting either his marriage or the sensitvites of the current foundation employees,” Epstein wrote on Aug 16 2011 to two top JPMorgan executives, Jes Staley and Mary Erdoes.
It was not until 2017 that Epstein made the threat in a letter to Mr Gates asking to be reimbursed for the cost of Ms Antonova’s course.
Epstein implied he was ready to expose the affair
In the letter he implied he knew of the affair and was ready to expose it.
Associates said the amount of money demanded was not significant, it was the thinly-veiled threat which mattered.
Mr Gates, whose net worth exceeds $100 billion, met Epstein more than half a dozen times.
He was one of a number of prominent individuals who Epstein sought to cultivate as he tried to restore his reputation after his initial sex offences conviction in 2008.
Mr Gates, who was also a passenger on Epstein’s private plane, has since said his calls and meetings with the disgraced financier were a mistake.
Mr Nikolic has also voiced his sadness at ever encountering Epstein.
“I deeply regret that I ever met Epstein,” he said. “His crimes were despicable. I never saw anything like his illegal behaviour. My heart goes out to his victims and their families.”
He added: “I should never have associated with him – and now I am thankful that he never invested in my endeavours.”
The proposed charitable fund failed to materialise.
“The firm didn’t need him as a client,” a JPMorgan spokesman said of Epstein. “The firm didn’t need him for introductions. Knowing what we know today, we wish we had never done business with him.”
Epstein was first accused of sexually abusing girls as young as 14 in 2006. He pleaded guilty in 2008 to soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution.
He was arrested again on sex trafficking charges in 2019 and was found hanging in a prison cell while awaiting trial.