The owner of the US tabloid The National Enquirer on Friday opposed charges of "extortion and blackmail" by Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon.com, claiming his reports on An extramarital relationship involving the world's richest man was legal and claims.
Bezos accused Thursday American Media (AMI) of attempting to blackmail him with the threat of publishing "intimate photos" that he would have sent to his girlfriend, unless he declares in public that the tabloid information of US supermarkets was not motivated by political considerations.
The US Attorney's Office in Manhattan is checking whether this alleged extortion violates a non-prosecution agreement, said a person familiar with the case, confirming a previous report published by Bloomberg News.
The MAI signed the deal with federal prosecutors last year over a $ 150,000 payout in pocket money to a former Playboy model man who claimed to have had an affair with US President Donald Trump. Trump denies the case.
The agreement can be canceled if AMI commits crimes. If the agreement is rescinded, AMI or its leaders could be prosecuted for the secret payment and its conduct with Bezos, legal experts said.
AMI and its CEO, David Pecker, have close ties to Trump, who attacked Bezos, Amazon, and the privately owned Washington Post on Twitter.
"American Media firmly believes it has acted legally in the cover of Mr. Bezos's story," the company said in a statement.
Last month, Bezos and his wife announced their divorce after 25 years of marriage. On the same day, the National Enquirer announced that it was publishing so-called intimate text messages between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, a former TV presenter with whom he allegedly had a romantic relationship.
Bezos opened an investigation into how the messages could have ended up in the hands of the tabloid, led by long-time security consultant Gavin de Becker. De Becker told the media that the leak was politically motivated.
In an article published Thursday on his blog, Bezos cited an email sent by AMI's deputy general counsel, Jon Fine, to a lawyer representing Becker. AMI proposed that Bezos and Becker publicly acknowledge that "they have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that the coverage of (AMI) was motivated by political considerations or influenced by political forces".
In exchange for such recognition, according to the e-mail, AMI proposed to "not publish, distribute, share or describe unpublished texts and photos," said Mr. Bezos.
Bezos said the statement proposed by AMI was false and qualified the offer as "exorbitant proposal".
Bezos, Fine and Becker were not immediately available for comment. Amazon declined to comment. Shares of the world's largest online retailer declined 1.8% to $ 1,584.74.
Extortion usually involves an effort to obtain goods, services, money or other benefit by threatening violence, damaging reputation or other harm, although definitions may vary according to state and federal laws.
In Florida, where American Media is based, extortion includes malicious targets that threaten shame or reveal their secrets. In Washington State, where Amazon is located, this includes threatening to reveal secrets that could subject the target to hatred, scorn, or ridicule, or to reveal information that the target wanted to conceal.
The federal law defines extortion as a person seeking or actually obtaining "property" through the "unlawful use" of real force or threats, violence or fear. "Property" can be something of value that is not limited to a tangible object or money.
Elie Honig, a former prosecutor, said in a column of CNN that the actions alleged by Bezos amounted to extortion, as the interruption of the Bezos investigation was helpful for AMI and the threat AMI's revealing sordid photos met the "illicit" test.
But criminal defense lawyer Page Pate said that what AMI was seeking to obtain from Bezos was "too vague" and would not be enough to put them in violation of the non-prosecution contract.
"I do not think there's a clear enough hook to show that what they wanted from Bezos was a thing of value," Pate said.
On Friday, AMI said that at the time of Bezos' allegations, he was "in good faith negotiating to settle all matters with him".
"Given the nature of the allegations published by Mr. Bezos, the Commission has met and decided that it should conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of the claims." Once the investigation is complete, he will take all the appropriate measures, "he added. .