MIT Media Lab head Joichi Ito resigns over Epstein donations

Joichi Ito, Director of the Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyImage copyright

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Joichi Ito has previously faced calls to resign over Epstein’s donations

The head of MIT’s Media Lab has resigned following allegations that the academic centre has financial ties to the late US financier Jeffrey Epstein.

MIT President Rafael Reif confirmed the resignation of Joichi Ito on Saturday following media reports.

Mr Reif added that university was engaging a law firm to conduct an independent review.

It comes a day after a New Yorker article outlined donations Epstein made and solicited for MIT.

The article also alleged that MIT staff sought to conceal the university’s relationship with Epstein, who died in prison while awaiting trial for sex trafficking charges.

“The acceptance of the Epstein gifts involved a mistake of judgment,” Mr Reif said in a statement.

In an email published by the New York Times, Mr Ito told university provost Martin Schmidt that he had he made the decision to step down “after giving the matter a great deal of thought over the past several days and weeks”.

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He apologised an a separate email to members of the Lab, saying: “While this chapter is truly difficult, I am confident the lab will persevere.”

Mr Ito shared the emails with the New York Times, where he has served as a board member since 2012.

According to the New Yorker, internal MIT emails and documents show that, although Epstein was blacklisted from the university’s official donor database, Mr Ito and other Lab staff continued to accept contributions from him and actively tried to conceal where they came from.

Epstein was also allegedly consulted about the use of funds, and served as an intermediary between the Lab and other wealthy donors.

The New Yorker alleges that Epstein helped to secure at least $7.5m (£6.1m) in donations, including $2m from Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

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Epstein was already a convicted sex offender when MIT’s Media Lab began accepting his donations

Mr Ito has acknowledged that he had accepted a $525,000 donation from Epstein, along with $1.2m for his own personal investment funds.

A spokesperson for Mr Gates told the New Yorker that “any claim that Epstein directed any programmatic or personal grantmaking for Bill Gates is completely false”.

Mr Ito first revealed in August that he had accepted donations from Mr Epstein, along with investments into his own personal funds.

The revelation prompted calls for him to resign as director, and two academic staff announced plans to leave the Lab.

Mr Ito met around 200 staff earlier this week to apologise again and seek to make amends to the centre.

But towards the end of the meeting, Nicholas Negroponte, a founder of the Lab, interrupted and said he had told Mr Ito to take the donation and would do it again.

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The Med Lab has been behind several technological innovations, including the electronic ink used in the Amazon Kindle

According to the MIT Technology Review, the meeting ended with one woman in tears. Another told Mr Negroponte to “shut up,” adding: “We’ve been cleaning up your messes for the past eight years.”

MIT’s Media Lab is an interdisciplinary research centre founded in 1985.

It has been behind several technological innovations, including the electronic ink used in the Amazon Kindle, and video game Guitar Hero.

Much of the lab’s funding comes from nearly 90 corporate sponsors, though those companies are not allowed to support or direct any of the research.