The world’s richest man, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, has accused the owner of a US gossip magazine of trying to blackmail him over lewd pictures.
He said the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc (AMI), wanted him to stop investigating how they had obtained his private messages.
Mr Bezos and his wife Mackenzie said they were divorcing last month.
Hours later the magazine published details, including private messages, of an extramarital affair.
AMI has not yet responded to the BBC’s request for comment.
What does Bezos say?
In a stunning blog post on Thursday, Mr Bezos posted an email he said had been sent to his intermediaries by AMI’s representatives threatening to publish “intimate photos” of him and his lover, former TV host Lauren Sanchez.
The billionaire, who also owns the Washington Post newspaper, said AMI had wanted him to make a “false public statement” that the National Enquirer’s coverage of him and his mistress was not politically motivated.
According to emails included by Mr Bezos in his blog, an AMI lawyer proposed on Wednesday that the photos would not be published in return for a public statement “affirming that [Bezos and his team] have no knowledge or basis” to suspect such a motive.
“Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail,” wrote Mr Bezos, “I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten.”
Early in the blog post, Mr Bezos mentions AMI’s links to President Donald Trump.
Why does he mention Trump?
Mr Bezos said his ownership of the Washington Post was a “complexifier” for him because he had made enemies of “certain powerful people”, including President Trump, who is a friend of AMI’s boss, David Pecker.
AMI recently admitted it had co-ordinated with the Trump presidential campaign to pay a Playboy model $150,000 (£115,000) in hush money to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Mr Trump.
Mr Bezos notes in his blog post how the publisher had confessed to the so-called “catch and kill” deal to bury Karen McDougal’s politically embarrassing story.
AMI’s agreement to co-operate with federal authorities means it will not face criminal charges over the payments, Manhattan prosecutors announced in December.
Mr Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen – who facilitated the hush money at the direction, he says, of Mr Trump – has already admitted violating campaign finance laws.
What about Bezos’ reputation?
The Amazon boss did not try to hide the potential for embarrassment, writing “of course I don’t want personal photos published” and noting what he called “AMI’s long-earned reputation for weaponising journalistic privileges”.
“But,” he continued, “I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favours, political attacks, and corruption. I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.”
His blog contained itemised details of 10 pictures in an email from the magazine’s editor, Dylan Howard, who said they had been “obtained during our newsgathering”.
New Yorker writer Ronan Farrow alleged that he “and at least one other prominent journalist” had been subject to similar threats from AMI.
I and at least one other prominent journalist involved in breaking stories about the National Enquirer’s arrangement with Trump fielded similar “stop digging or we’ll ruin you” blackmail efforts from AMI. (I did not engage as I don’t cut deals with subjects of ongoing reporting.) https://t.co/kHQdWIkVjV
— Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) February 8, 2019
Mr Bezos said “AMI’s claim of newsworthiness is that the photos are necessary to show Amazon shareholders that my business judgment is terrible”.
But the Amazon boss countered that the firm’s results “speak for themselves”.
Dylan Howard’s name, along with those of two National Enquirer reporters, appeared on a story the magazine published on 9 January containing alleged details of Mr Bezos’ affair with Ms Sanchez.
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