Daniel Berman/Redux Bill Gates and Melinda Gates
As the co-founder of one of the world's largest private foundations, Bill Gates has had his sights set on winning a Nobel Prize — an aspiration he once divulged to Jeffrey Epstein, a source tells PEOPLE.
Though Gates, 65, has denied any substantial ties to Epstein, the insider says their conversations were enough to irk his wife Melinda French Gates, 56, from whom he announced his divorce on May 3.
"It was a business connection and had to do with fundraising," the source says of Bill and Epstein. "There was a legitimate philanthropic side to this, and they had spoken about the Nobel Prize and what they could do to work towards that."
Still, the source adds, "Melinda didn't want him having anything to do with Epstein."
A former employee of the Gates Foundation told the Daily Beast that the prize "is what Bill wants more than anything else in the world."
Spokespersons for both Melinda and Bill did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment, though Gates in 2019 denied having "any business relationship or friendship" with Epstein, a billionaire financier who died by suicide inside a jail cell that August while awaiting trial on federal conspiracy and sex trafficking charges.
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However, reports have emerged indicating that the two men met multiple times beginning in 2011, and discussed a proposal from Epstein to help raise funds for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which never came to fruition.
A source previously told PEOPLE that Epstein "is definitely a sore spot" for Melinda, and that anything involving Epstein was "major trauma" for the philanthropist.
"She was totally opposed to what she considered shady dealings and some other issues he wanted to pursue in the business area," the source said. "She was not afraid to speak up about it either."
Gates' Epstein connection made headlines once again this week in a New York Times report that claimed that Bill "remarked in Mr. Epstein's presence that he was unhappy in his marriage" at least one time.
Frederic Stevens/Getty Melinda and Bill Gates
The newspaper also reported that Melinda was "unhappy" when the two men's relationship became public knowledge in 2019, and subsequently consulted with divorce lawyers.
In 2019, when the Times reported on the relationship between Epstein and Gates, the Microsoft cofounder's spokeswoman Bridgitt Arnold said that Gates "regretted the relationship with Epstein," and was unaware that a private jet he'd flown on had belonged to Epstein.
Arnold also denied to the outlet that Gates ever socialized or attended parties with Epstein, and said they only ever met to "discuss philanthropy."
A statement shared with PEOPLE on Monday from a Gates spokesperson doubled down on that claim, saying that the newspaper's "characterization of his meetings with Epstein and others about philanthropy is inaccurate, including who participated."
In a joint statement announcing their divorce, the estranged couple said they would continue to work together at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
A source previously told PEOPLE that the Gateses would likely put on a united front because "they were really interested in trying to win a Nobel Prize."
"So one thing that was part of this is, if it gets worse, then it ends that," the insider added. "It seems as if that was on the agenda, and that's for both of them."
Bill and Melinda, who first met while both were working at Microsoft in 1987, announced their split earlier this month after 27 years of marriage.
Melinda said in court documents that her marriage to Bill was "irretrievably broken," and that while they do not have a prenuptial agreement in place, their assets will be divided according to a separation agreement.
The estranged couple shares three children, daughters Jennifer, 25, and Phoebe, 18, and son Rory, 21.