"Epstein tried unsuccessfully to leverage a past relationship to threaten Mr. Gates," a spokesperson for Gates said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE
The message was sent over email in 2017, after the disgraced financier, who died by suicide while awaiting trial on federal conspiracy and sex trafficking charges, learned of the alleged relationship with Mila Antonova, the newspaper reported, citing sources familiar with the matter. By that time, Epstein had also failed to get Gates to join in a charitable fund that never came to fruition, the Journal reported.
Epstein met Antonova in 2013, years after Gates met the bridge player when she was in her 20s, according to the newspaper. At the time, the tech billionaire was married to ex-wife Melinda French Gates.
When Epstein emailed Gates in 2017, he asked to be reimbursed for money he spent to send her to software coding school, according to the outlet. The message also seemingly hinted at the idea that Epstein could expose the alleged relationship if an association between the two men was not maintained, per the newspaper, which reported that no payment was made.
"Mr. Gates met with Epstein solely for philanthropic purposes. Having failed repeatedly to draw Mr. Gates beyond these matters, Epstein tried unsuccessfully to leverage a past relationship to threaten Mr. Gates," a spokesperson for Gates said according to a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
"Mr. Gates never had any financial dealings with Epstein," the spokesperson added. "As Bill has said before, it was a mistake to have ever met him."
In a YouTube video posted in 2010, Antonova spoke about meeting the Microsoft co-founder, now 67, during a bridge tournament in Washington, D.C. "I didn't beat him but I tried to kick him with my leg," she said in the video.
Antonova met Epstein while looking for $500,000 for an online business she hoped to create to teach people how to play bridge, according to the Journal. Antonova said Epstein ultimately did not invest.
When she later decided to get into programming, she told the newspaper that "Epstein agreed to pay and he paid directly to the school."
"I had no idea that he was a criminal or had any ulterior motive," Antonova, who did not comment on Gates, told the Journal in a statement. "I just thought he was a successful businessman and wanted to help."
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Epstein, who reportedly met with Gates on several occasions after 2011, had previously attempted to convince Gates to take part in a multibillion-dollar charitable fund with JPMorgan Chase, but failed, according to the Journal.
Gates has said on numerous occasions that he regrets his previous ties to Epstein. Appearing on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 in August 2021, the billionaire admitted that "it was a huge mistake to spend time with him."
During a 2022 interview after their divorce, French Gates said that there "wasn't one moment or one specific thing that happened" that led to their split, but that she "did not like that he'd had meetings" with Epstein.
French Gates said she met with Epstein on one occasion. "I wanted to see who this man was and I regretted it from the second I stepped in the door," she said during the interview. "He was abhorrent. He was evil personified. I had nightmares about it afterwards."
In a statement shared with CBS Mornings at the time, Gates reiterated that "meeting with Epstein was a mistake that I regret deeply" and that "it was a substantial error in judgment."
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