Ex-Israeli premier plays down relationship with Epstein

FILE - In this July 30, 2008 file photo, Jeffrey Epstein, center, appears in court in West Palm Beach, Fla. The wealthy financier pleaded not guilty in federal court in New York on Monday, July 8, 2019, to sex trafficking charges following his arrest over the weekend. Epstein will have to remain behind bars until his bail hearing on July 15. (Uma Sanghvi/Palm Beach Post via AP, File)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is playing down his ties with Jeffrey Epstein — the U.S. financier jailed on sex-trafficking charges.

Barak's connection with Epstein has emerged in Israel just days after the 78-year-old former premier announced his political comeback in a bid to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to U.S. tax records, Barak received some $2 million in grants last decade from the Wexner Foundation — a philanthropic organization that supports Jewish causes founded by U.S. billionaire Leslie Wexner.

The documents say the grants were for unspecified "research." At the time of the grants, Epstein was a trustee of the foundation. Netanyahu has accused the media of remaining "silent" about the matter.

In a radio interview Thursday, Barak said he met Epstein several times, but said he "didn't support me or pay me."

He said he has met many people over the years, some of whom turned out to be involved in "problematic things," including Harvey Weinstein.

"I also met Netanyahu," he quipped. Israel's attorney general has recommended criminal charges against Netanyahu in a series of corruption cases.

The Wexner Foundation did not immediately respond to queries seeking comment.