US tabloid investigated by owner over blackmail claims by Amazon's Jeff Bezos

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In a post on Medium.com, Amazon owner and CEO, Jeff Bezos, accused the tabloid National Enquirer of threatening him for his investigation of them.

American Media said in an emailed statement that it "believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr Bezos" and made "good faith negotiations" with the United States billionaire but had decided nonetheless to "promptly and thoroughly investigate the claims" by the Amazon CEO.

Last month, the Enquirer reported on Bezos divorce and published text messages between him and Lauren Sanchez, whom he was said to be dating. Mr Bezos said he had been told that if he refused, the publisher would make risque and intimate photos of him and his mistress, Ms Lauren Sanchez, public.

Instead, he published what he said were emails from Enquirer executives to a lawyer representing de Becker.

In a stunning open letter posted on Medium in which he accused American Media (AMI), the Enquirer's parent company, of extortion and blackmail, Bezos referred to several motives and characters that could form the outline of a conspiracy.

And in his Medium post, Mr Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, pointed to AMI and David Pecker's previous cooperation with Mr Trump, including payments made to suppress negative stories, now under investigation by federal prosecutors. Soon after, the tabloid carried reports about text messages hinting at the billionaire's affair.

Bezos copy and pasted an email allegedly from Dylan Howard, AMI's COO, days after that initial threat was made, which claims that they have obtained nine lewd photos of Bezos and Sanchez in addition to a "below the belt selfie - otherwise colloquially known as a 'd*ck pick'".

"So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post". Bezos' investigators have suggested the Enquirer's coverage of his affair was driven by dirty politics.

AWS representatives, presumably still dazed by this whole thing like the rest of us, did not respond to a request for comment on the breadth and depth of American Media's spending on the cloud computing giant's services.

Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, said Bezos' allegations, if accurate, could have serious consequences for both prosecutors and AMI.

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Bezos mentions Trump in his post, by the way.

And the investigator, Gavin de Becker, looked into whether Pecker's National Inquirer is influence-peddling for Saudi Arabia for some sort of quid pro quo.

(AMI) - which owns The National Enquirer - David Pecker, threatened to publish explicit photos of him and Sanchez.

"Clearly Bezos will have a civil claim against AMI if they chose to bring it, but the question is whether it is criminal", said David Berger, a litigation partner with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

In one of the emails Bezos published, an AMI lawyer proposed that Bezos would disavow any belief that the Enquirer's coverage was "politically motivated", and in exchange, AMI would not "publish, distribute, share, or describe unpublished texts and photos".

On Thursday, Bezos noted that Pecker is cooperating with federal prosecutors who are investigating "catch-and-kill" payments the Enquirer made ahead of the 2016 presidential election to at least one woman who alleged she had an affair with Trump.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment other than to confirm that Bezos wrote the post.

A person familiar with the National Enquirer's operation told CNN Business that similar accusations of blackmail might come to light.

But Levenson said it was too hard to tell if the case amounted to blackmail or extortion without additional context and some prosecutors may be reluctant to charge someone for threatening another with embarrassing material.

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