Richard Branson says he has no recollection of an episode at his Caribbean home in 2010 that led a woman to accuse him of sexual assault, CNN reported.
The billionaire has been accused of putting his face in the breasts of an American who was working as a backup singer for the English artist Joss Stone. The group was attending a party at Branson’s Necker Island.
“He went ‘brrrrrr’ and just walked away. It was surreal, totally out of the blue,” Antonia Jenae told British newspaper The Sun. “His behavior was disgusting. I feel like it was sexual assault,” she added. “Everyone was wondering why I wasn’t angry because I’m usually a firebrand. But I was just too shocked.”
A spokesperson for Branson’s company, Virgin, said in response: “Richard has no recollection of this matter and neither do his family and friends, who were with him at the time. There would never have been any intention to offend or make anyone feel uncomfortable in any way and Richard apologizes if anyone felt that way during their time on the island.”
Jenae appears to have first made the allegations in a Facebook post on October 16 that used the hashtag #metoo. “He kept trying to convince me to show him my boobs like this Indian statute (sic) he had at his pool on his island, I took it as a ‘joke,’ “ she wrote of Branson in the post.
“As everyone was saying goodnight, he proceeded to ‘motorboard’ my breasts with his face,” she continued. “I was so shocked. I think everyone was, no one said or did anything.” CNN said it has contacted Jenae for further comment.
Virgin also released a statement from Joss Stone’s father, Richard Stoker, who attended the party in June 2010. “Joss and the group had a wonderful afternoon on Necker Island, everybody entered into the party spirit and it was wonderful getting to know Richard and his family,” he said.
The statement made no mention of any incident. Jenae wrote on Facebook that her boss and her boss’ father witnessed the incident. She told The Sun that she and Stone recorded a video immediately after to record their astonishment.
A representative for Stone declined to comment to The Sun. CNN said her label did not respond to requests for comment. Allegations of sexual assaults by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein published in early October have been followed by a raft of complaints against other powerful men in business, media and politics.
Weinstein has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex. Many women have posted their stories of abuse and harassment on the social media hashtag #metoo. Branson was previously accused of inappropriately touching the ex-wife of Formula 1 driver Jenson Button after drinking heavily at a Japanese restaurant in Australia.
The driver wrote in his autobiography published last month that Branson made Jessica Michibata uncomfortable by flirting with her before “putting his hand on her face.” Button said the billionaire was “so hammered that he simply didn’t understand what the problem was.” The driver wrote in his book that Branson apologized, and quit drinking for “months afterwards.”
In his autobiography, also published in October, Branson said he was “very, very inebriated.” He admitted his “antics” at the restaurant may have caused offense, but said he and Button had since “smoothed it out.”
“I can’t ever remember ever getting that drunk, before or since,” he wrote of the 2009 incident.
Jenae said in an Instagram post on Sunday that she has been called a “liar” and “gold digger” since The Sun published its story.
“I am strong,” she said. “I just hope my situation can make it better for a person not as strong.”
“There is safety in numbers,” Jenae added. “That’s why so many woman (sic) are speaking up now. Instead of asking me why didn’t I say anything before now, what SHOULD be asked is why did he think that was okay?”