Jeff Bezos says the National Enquirer’s parent company tried to “blackmail” him by threatening to publish “intimate” photos of the Amazon boss unless his private investigators backed off the newspaper.
The world’s richest person said he was the target of “extortion” by the US tabloid’s publisher, American Media Inc (AMI) whose boss is David Pecker, a friend of President Donald Trump.
It comes after Mr Bezos hired a team of private investigators following a story published by the newspaper detailing his extramarital affair.
He wanted to find out how journalists had got hold of “intimate texts” between himself and former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez.
The investigators working for the billionaire tycoon, who bought The Washington Post in 2013, have suggested the Enquirer’s coverage of his affair was politically motivated.
Mr Trump has hit out at Mr Bezos in the past over the Post’s critical coverage of the White House, with AMI previously admitting it used “catch-and-kill” practices to help Mr Trump win the presidency.
According to an email included in a blog post written by the 55-year-old entrepreneur entitled No Thank You, Mr Pecker, the publication had several revealing photos of Mr Bezos and Ms Sanchez.
The newspaper’s editor Dylan Howard appeared to have emailed a lawyer for the Amazon chief’s security consultant earlier this week, describing the photos, which Mr Howard said was “obtained during our newsgathering”.
He said they included:
:: A “below the belt selfie”
:: A “naked selfie in a bathroom” in which the billionaire “is wearing nothing but a white towel”
:: A “shirtless Mr Bezos holding his phone in his left hand - while wearing his wedding ring. He’s wearing either tight black cargo pants or shorts – and his semi-erect manhood is penetrating the zipper of said garment”
:: A “full-length body selfie of Mr Bezos wearing just a pair of tight black boxer-briefs or trunks, with his phone in his left hand – while wearing his wedding ring”
:: “Mr Bezos face selfie at what appears to be a business meeting”
:: “Ms Sanchez response – a photograph of her smoking a cigar in what appears to be a simulated oral sex scene”
:: A “selfie of Mr Bezos fully clothed”
:: A “full-length scantily-clad body shot with short trunks”.
The email also stated there was a photo of Ms Sanchez “wearing a two-piece red bikini with gold detail dress revealing her cleavage”.
In further emails posted by the Amazon chief, a lawyer for AMI offered a deal on Wednesday, saying the Enquirer would not publish the photos if he and his investigators released a statement “affirming that they have no knowledge or basis” to suggest the paper’s coverage was “politically motivated”.
The Enquirer reported last month that Mr Bezos had sent “sleazy text messages and gushing love notes” to Ms Sanchez in the months before he announced he was splitting from his wife MacKenzie.
Journalists followed Mr Bezos and Ms Sanchez “across five states and 40,000 miles” and “tailed them in private jets, swanky limos, helicopter rides, romantic hikes, five-star hotel hideaways, intimate dinner dates and ‘quality time’ in hidden love nests”, according to its story.
Writing on Thursday, Mr Bezos said he decided to publish the emails sent to his team “rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail” and despite the “personal cost and embarrassment they threaten”.
On Friday, AMI said it acted lawfully in its reporting on Mr Bezos, and it would thoroughly investigate his claims of blackmail and take whatever action was necessary.
Meanwhile, journalist Ronan Farrow, who is the son of Hollywood actress Mia Farrow, said he had received similar threats from AMI while reporting on the relationship between the Enquirer and Mr Trump.
Mr Farrow tweeted: “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.)”