Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and the richest man on earth, wrote an article accusing American Media, the parent company of the National Enquirer, of blackmail and extortion. The accusation comes weeks after the National Enquirer published personal text messages between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, the woman he had been seeing while still legally married to MacKenzie Bezos.
In a post on Medium published Thursday afternoon, Bezos discloses he launched his own investigation in to the National Enquirer, which is led by executive David Pecker, to find out how the tabloid was able to obtain Bezos’ personal text messages. In response to the investigation, the chief content officer of American Media Inc. (Known as AMI) wrote to Bezos’ lawyers, threatening to publish more intimate photos of Bezos and Sanchez.
Bezos included the two e-mails he received from AMI since February 5. One threatens publication of the photos, while the other is a numbered list of “proposed terms” of agreement, one of which includes a “public, mutually-agreed upon acknowledgement from the Bezos Parties, released through a mutually-agreeable news outlet, affirming that they have no knowledge of basis for suggesting that AM’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”
Rather than succumb to what he describes as attempted blackmail, Bezos chose to expose the communications, including the email addresses and phone numbers of AMI’s representatives.
“Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in [AMI’s] well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks, and corruption. I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out,” Bezos wrote.
A representative for AMI did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Jon Fine, AMI’s deputy general counsel who sent one of the e-mails to Bezos’ legal team, has only been at the company for four months, according to his LinkedIn. Prior to AMI, he worked at Amazon for nine years in various roles from November 2008 to January 2015, including associate general counsel and, most recently, as a director in the author and publishing relations team.
Elena Fast, a criminal defense lawyer at Blanch Law firm based in New York City, does not believe the two e-mails themselves legally qualify as blackmail or extortion. “This was clever drafting,” Fast says. “Usually, extorters don’t come from big law firms. They’re usually individuals that have in their possession some sort of information that is embarrassing, so you see explicit threats. There’s certainly … the implication of it, but there is nothing explicit enough to rise to the level of criminal wrongdoing, in my opinion.”
Amazon stock closed Thursday at $1,614.37, down 1.6%. According to Forbes Real-Time Rankings, Bezos ended the day $2 billion poorer. However, he still the richest man in the world by far, with a net worth that Forbes pegs at $133.5 billion.