Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is accusing the National Enquirer of attempting to extort him with explicit photographs of him and girlfriend Lauren Sanchez

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February 07, 2019 09:24 PM

Jeff Bezos is hitting back at the National Enquirer and its owner American Media Inc. alleging they attempted to blackmail and extort him by threatening to publish explicit photos of him and girlfriend Lauren Sanchez.

In a post on the website Medium, the 55-year-old Amazon CEO wrote: “Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten.”

In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, AMI said, “American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos. Further, at the time of the recent allegations made by Mr. Bezos, it was in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him. Nonetheless, 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. Upon completion of that investigation, the Board will take whatever appropriate action is necessary.”

The Enquirer published a months-long investigation into Bezos and his relationship with Sanchez, 49, in January shortly after Bezos announced his divorce from wife MacKenzie, alleging the two had traveled to “exotic destinations on his $65 million private jet.” The tabloid’s report contained photographs and text messages that Bezos had allegedly sent to Sanchez.

Bezos explained he had asked his longtime security chief Gavin de Becker to “learn how those texts were obtained, and to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by the Enquirer.”

Drew Angerer/Getty

According to Bezos, when AMI heard of the investigation, he was “approached, verbally at first, with an offer” to make a public statement saying he and de Becker “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting AMI’s coverage [of his relationship with Sanchez] was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”

AMI has previously denied any political motive behind its story about Bezos and Sanchez, though David Pecker, chairman of the tabloid’s parent company, was a longtime ally of Donald Trump until last fall, when AMI agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in an investigation of its alleged efforts to help hide negative stories about Trump. The President has regularly criticized Bezos for his ownership of the Washington Post, which has closely and critically covered Trump’s administration.

Lauren Sanchez and Jeff Bezos at a party in 2016.
Todd Williamson/Getty

Bezos published emails from Enquirer executives to attorney Martin Singer, who represents de Becker, that appeared to suggest the Enquirer would publish intimate photos of Bezos and Sanchez, including some that were partially nude, if the Amazon chief did not comply.

“They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn’t stop our investigation,” he continued, adding his lawyers had “argued that AMI has no right to publish photos” due to the copyright individual people have over their own images.

Bezos also claimed Enquirer editor Dylan Howard sent an email to Singer giving a detailed description of intimate photos of Bezos and Sanchez that the publication had obtained. Bezos included the alleged email in his Medium post.

Howard did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

“Well, that got my attention. But not in the way they likely hoped,” Bezos wrote on Medium. “Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here. If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?”

“These communications cement AMI’s long-earned reputation for weaponizing journalistic privileges, hiding behind important protections, and ignoring the tenets and purpose of true journalism,” Bezos continued.

He concluded, “Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their 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—considered the world’s richest man with an estimated fortune of $137 billion—and wife MacKenzie, 48, announced they were separating in a joint statement in early January. Hours later, news emerged that the  Amazon CEO was dating Sanchez. The news anchor, 49, is also divorcing her husband of 13 years, Hollywood agent Patrick Whitesell.

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