National Enquirer owner defends reporting on Amazon boss Jeff Bezos amid blackmail accusations



February 09, 2019 09:15:11

The National Enquirer’s owner has pushed back against accusations of “extortion and blackmail” from Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, saying its reporting on an extramarital relationship involving the world’s richest man was lawful and it would investigate his claims.

Key points:

  • The owner of the National Enquirer said it was in “good faith negotiations” with Mr Bezos
  • The tabloid made an agreement with authorities last year to avoid prosecution over hush money payments to a former Playboy model who claimed she had an affair with Donald Trump
  • Under the deal AMI was spared prosecution as long as it did not commit a crime but Mr Bezos’ allegations could complicate the matter

Mr Bezos on Thursday accused American Media Inc (AMI) of trying to blackmail him with the threat of publishing “intimate photos” he allegedly sent to his girlfriend unless he said in public that the American supermarket tabloid’s reporting on him was not politically motivated.

The accusations of blackmail could complicate a related legal matter involving the National Enquirer’s actions during the 2016 US elections.

AMI has had close links with US President Donald Trump, who has attacked Mr Bezos, Amazon and the newspaper he owns, the Washington Post, on Twitter.

“American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr Bezos,” the company said.

Mr Bezos and his wife announced last month that they were divorcing after 25 years of marriage.

That same day, the National Enquirer touted it was publishing alleged intimate text messages between Mr Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, a former television anchor whom he was said to be dating.

Mr Bezos opened an investigation into how the messages could have ended up in the hands of the tabloid, led by longtime security consultant Gavin de Becker.

Mr De Becker said the leak was politically motivated.

US prosecutors are reviewing whether the alleged extortion violated a cooperation agreement made last year with AMI in connection with a $US150,000 ($211,661) hush-money deal with Karen McDougal, the former Playboy model who claims she had an affair with Mr Trump.

In recent months, the Trump-friendly tabloid acknowledged secretly assisting Mr Trump’s White House campaign by paying Ms McDougal for the rights to her story about the alleged affair.

The company then suppressed the story until after the 2016 election.

The president has denied Ms McDougal’s claim.

The deal not to prosecute was conditional on AMI not committing any crime.

Bezos explains blackmail attempt

In a blog post, Mr Bezos cited an email from AMI deputy general counsel, Jon Fine, to a lawyer representing Mr de Becker.

In it, AMI proposed a public acknowledgment from Mr Bezos and Mr de Becker that “they have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that (AMI’s) coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces”.

In return for such an acknowledgment, according to the email, AMI offered “not to publish, distribute, share, or describe unpublished texts and photos,” Mr Bezos said.

Mr Bezos said the statement AMI was proposing was false and described the offer as an “extortionate proposal”.

Extortion typically involves an effort to obtain property, services, money or some other benefit by threatening violence, reputational harm or other injury.

In Florida, where AMI is based, extortion includes maliciously threatening targets with disgrace, or to expose their secrets.

In Washington state, where Amazon is based, it includes threatening to expose secrets that may subject targets to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or reveal information that the targets wanted to conceal.

Both forms of extortions are second degree felonies.

On Friday, AMI said that at the time of Mr Bezos’ allegations it was “in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him”.

“In light of the nature of the allegations published by Mr Bezos, the board has convened and determined that it should promptly and thoroughly investigate the claims,” it said.

“Upon completion of that investigation, the board will take whatever appropriate action is necessary.”

Mr Bezos owns more than $US120 billion in Amazon stock.











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