Saudi Arabia denies role in National Enquirer 'blackmail plot' against Amazon founder Jeff Bezos

Tom Embury-Dennis

Saudi Arabia has denied involvement in an alleged blackmail plot by a US publishing company against Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Mr Bezos, the world’s richest man, accused the National Enquirer last week of “extortion and blackmail” after the tabloid published in January texts between Bezos and his girlfriend, former Fox TV anchor Lauren Sanchez.

He claims the Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc (AMI), demanded he announce its reporting of his private life was not politically motivated, or else it would publish a number of salacious photos, including a “below-the-belt selfie”.

In a post on Medium, Mr Bezos alleged AMI – owned by Trump ally David Pecker – was angry he had launched a private investigation into how the magazine had obtained the texts.

Mr Bezos referenced media reports about alleged links between AMI and Saudi Arabia, and alluded to the kingdom’s displeasure at the Washington Post’s coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Mr Bezos owns the Washington title.

On Friday, Saudi Arabia sparked criticism and suspicion when its foreign ministry Twitter account posted quotes attributed to foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, in which he said: “We warn against any attempt to link Khashoggi’s crime to our leadership.”

But in an interview to be aired on Sunday, Mr Jubeir told CBS News the kingdom has “absolutely nothing to do” with the row.

“This is something between the two parties, we have nothing to do with it,” Mr Jubeir said, when asked if the Saudi government was involved in the Enquirer leaks.

“It sounds to me like a soap opera,” he said. Mr Jubeir claimed he was not aware of any links between the Saudi government and AMI or Mr Pecker.

Mr Bezos’s revelations have sparked an investigation by federal prosecutors into whether AMI violated a cooperation deal with the Southern District of New York, after it admitted last year it broke the law to help facilitate a hush money payment on behalf of Donald Trump.

AMI said on Friday its reporting on Mr Bezos was lawful and it would investigate his claims.

The killing of Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate last October strained Saudi Arabia’s ties with western allies, exposed the kingdom to possible sanctions and tarnished the image of de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman, who has denied any involvement in the murder.

Additional reporting by Reuters