UK Oleh turned Weinstein spy: We didn’t know he was accused of rape

Freedman was told “there’s a big Hollywood producer whose brother wants him out of the company, and the job is to see if there’s a plot against him.”

Film producer Harvey Weinstein arrives for his arraignment at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York, U.S., June 5, 2018. (photo credit: SHANNON STAPLETON / REUTERS)
Film producer Harvey Weinstein arrives for his arraignment at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York, U.S., June 5, 2018.
The day after Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison in New York for third-degree rape and first-degree criminal sexual acts, Seth Freedman, the Israeli-English spy who spoke to some of Weinstein’s accusers, said last week he wouldn’t have done anything differently.
The reason for his lack of regret, Freedman said, is because he didn’t know Weinstein was trying to cover up rape accusations. And once he did, both he and his former employer Black Cube said they dropped the job.
Freedman grew up in London, and started working in the city’s financial district when he was 18. After growing disillusioned with the work and developing a drug habit, he moved to Israel in 2004 at age 24 to enlist in the IDF. He served for 15 months in a Nahal combat unit. When he completed his service, he lived in Jerusalem, briefly worked on The Jerusalem Post’s business desk, and wrote features for the Post’s In Jerusalem weekly supplement.
“I kept a diary in the army and always enjoyed writing. Someone got me on the business desk, because I used to be a trader in London. And I wrote magazine pieces, like one about the local boxing club I was a member of… I loved it,” he recalled.
Freedman jumped from the Post to The Guardian, where he wrote opinion columns for more than four years. His IDF service, most of which he spent stationed in the West Bank, had made him jaded yet again, and very left-wing. Freedman said he’s since shifted away from those views. He became notorious in UK pro-Israel circles for his articles that were highly critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
In 2011, Freedman moved back to North London to start a family, but he didn’t just settle into a quiet life. Working in the commodities market, he had his first spying experience as a whistleblower wearing a wire for the regulators and ended up exposing what he called “serious manipulation in the gas market.” That led to an investigations job for “a shipping tycoon” in the UK who had also acquired the services of Black Cube, which then hired him.
Freedman recounted how he first found out about the assignment to spy for Weinstein.
Freedman was told “there’s a big Hollywood producer whose brother wants him out of the company, and the job is to see if there’s a plot against him.”
“It’s not how it’s been presented,” he said. “This wasn’t Harvey Weinstein saying ‘I’ve been accused of rape, now go out and intimidate people.’”
Former prime minister Ehud Barak, who connected Weinstein to Black Cube, made a similar statement about his role in the saga. He thought it was a corporate espionage job and knew nothing about sexual misconduct by Weinstein.
Freedman called people from a list Weinstein compiled, saying he is a journalist doing a story on life in Hollywood, without bringing up Weinstein’s name.
“If they don’t bring his name up to a journalist, then they’re probably not accusing him of things,” Freedman posited.
At first, he was given a list of six or seven people to contact, Freedman recounted, most of whom were men. The list eventually ballooned to 91.
“They were people like Steve Mnuchin, who’s now the [US] secretary of the Treasury but was in movies, Kenneth Cole, the shoe designer, was on the board of an AIDS charity with Weinstein, big, powerful executive-level men, a few women at that top level and a couple of actresses,” he said.
Most of the people were in the US and Freedman was based in London, so his work was done via email and phone calls.
Freedman said he did not pick up on the reason Weinstein hired Black Cube, his employer, for a long time.
“At the time, there wasn’t any ‘Me Too’ or publicity around this,” he said. “I was talking to a lot of people and you could see some people had an ax to grind against him and some were quite praiseworthy of him.”
Only two of the people on Freedman’s list of people to contact accused Weinstein of assault in his talks with them, actresses Rose McGowan – one of the highest-profile accusers – and Katherine Kendall. More than 50 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct.
Freedman started the work in October 2016, and spoke to McGowan in January 2017 and Kendall in July 2017. The stories they told made him “uncomfortable,” he said.
McGowan told him she had been raped by a “big Hollywood producer” and that the details would be in her book. “It was obvious” she meant Weinstein, Freedman said.
Freedman takes issue with how McGowan presented the call: “She told Ronan Farrow I pretended to be an abuse victim. I have all the tapes, I didn’t say that. I didn’t bring up abuse. I talked about life in Hollywood and she brought up abuse. She’s embarrassed that I got one over her.”
During the call, Freedman said he had the impression that McGowan was a “very unstable person.”
“She didn’t make sense in the call and she compared herself to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. I don’t know what did or didn’t happen. No one was asking me if I think it’s true,” he said.
“Then in July, Katherine [Kendall] accused him of the same thing,” Freedman recounted, and said he found Kendall to be “entirely credible,” to the extent that they have been in touch more recently and she asked Freedman to help her in Weinstein’s pending trial in Los Angeles.
Today, Freedman said he does not feel differently about his work than he did when he was doing it.
“Now he’s a convicted rapist and sent to jail – that happened in the last two months. In 2017, there weren’t any accusations. The idea that we should have known what was going to come – we just didn’t know,” he said.
Freedman said he is not interested in testifying in any of the trials against Weinstein.
“I was called as a witness in the first trial. They said they really want me, but I said I don’t want to unless compelled. It’s a very toxic atmosphere and you get worried for your safety from all kinds of lunatics out there… I don’t see what benefit the prosecution gets [from calling me]. I never even spoke to [Weinstein], never dealt with him, it was all through intermediaries,” he said.
Freedman said he thinks Weinstein’s conviction and sentence were justified: “He’s been convicted of rape and he should stay in jail.”
But the spy is concerned about his own situation, and railed against “the subplot where everyone is writing books where they have to distort [the facts] to maximize their reach.”
Freedman opened up to the media in recent weeks about his role in the Weinstein story, after Farrow, the journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in The New Yorker on the assault allegations against Weinstein, named him in his book.
The former spy, who still works in private intelligence, provided a recording of someone who sounds like Farrow saying he told his editor: “We cannot burn him, we can never reveal that we got anything from Seth or that he had been a source for us.” Farrow’s publisher did not reply to emails asking to confirm the recording’s veracity or to respond to Freedman’s claims.
“I have to go public, or my name gets dragged in the mud and I haven’t got the right of reply,” Freedman lamented.
In the excerpt from Farrow’s book published in The New Yorker in October 2019, he describes Freedman as implicitly threatening him with a libel suit. Once the news of the allegations against Weinstein came out, Freedman provided Farrow with materials, including a “list of targets” – the people he called for Weinstein. He also admitted to Farrow that he was working for Black Cube.
Freedman was very focused on his role as a corporate intelligence agent.
“As long as you’re not breaking the law, it doesn’t matter what the client did or didn’t do,” he said. “It’s a totally normal job to have two executives fall out and one hires Black Cube to find out what the other was up to. What’s different here is that we’re dealing with celebrities… It looked on paper like [Weinstein] thought someone like his brother [Bob Weinstein] was asking people to smear him so he can turn to the other board members and say [Harvey Weinstein] is bad for [The Weinstein Company].”
Freedman made similar comments to Farrow, quoted in The New Yorker: “We thought this was… the normal kind of business dispute you have with Oligarch 1 against Oligarch 2, the equivalent in Hollywood… It turned out that it was actually about sexual assault. We pulled back and we said there’s no way we’re getting involved with this. How do we extricate ourselves? Because he’s hired us.”
Freedman insisted his work is “just litigation support” and that the reporting and books on the subject make it sound more “sinister.”
“We’re trying to find information on behalf of a client. When you boil it down to that, people don’t sound that bothered. Ronan [Farrow] needs it to sound like a sinister and scary operation… because he wants you to buy his book,” he argued.
Freedman has boasted in some of his other interviews, like with the BBC, that because he’s a spy, “you’ve got no idea if I’m telling the truth.”
However, the Post independently verified that Freedman did work for Black Cube at that time.