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Jeff Bezos, David Pecker scandal may lead towards Trump and Saudi Arabia

Blogpost by Bezos prompts tidal wave of reactions, many praising his decision to face down Pecker and National Enquirer
National Enquirer at convenience store in New York City on Friday (AFP)

A scandal currently engulfing Amazon CEO and world’s richest man Jeff Bezos and David Pecker, chief executive of National Enquirer publisher AMI, may also lead towards US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia.

When the National Enquirer, controlled by Trump's ally Pecker, threatened to release lurid, intimate pictures of Bezos and his mistress unless he said in public that the supermarket tabloid's reporting on him was not politically motivated, he fought back by releasing the details of his exchanges publicly in a 2,000-word blogpost published on the website Medium.

Jeff Bezos (AFP/file photo)
Jeff Bezos (AFP/file photo)

"If in my position I can't stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?" Bezos, 55, wrote on Medium.

The bombshell from Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, brought a tidal wave of reactions, many praising his decision to face down Pecker and the Enquirer, AFP reported.

"Not everyone can stand up to bullies, thugs and extortionists, but if you can, you should," said rival tech entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay.

Juan Cole wrote on the Common Dreams website that Pecker’s attempt to “blackmail” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos would not ordinarily interest him, except for a section in Bezos’s post that alluded to Saudi Arabia:

"And sometimes Mr. Pecker mixes it all together:

“After Mr. Trump became president, he rewarded Mr. Pecker’s loyalty with a White House dinner to which the media executive brought a guest with important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia. At the time, Mr. Pecker was pursuing business there while also hunting for financing for acquisitions…”

Cole goes on to point out that Pecker brought Saudi publicist and investment banker Kacy Grine to the White House.

He also writes about Pecker’s “strange move” to place a pro-Saudi glossy magazine in “grocery store checkout lanes” last March, which MEE covered extensively.

A copy of the magazine was obtained by Middle East Eye in rural New Hampshire, and it was also available at 100,000 outlets nationwide, according to AMI.

It wasn’t the kind of place you’d expect to come across propaganda supporting a repressive Middle Eastern autocrat, MEE said at the time, but shoppers at a nearby Walmart recently may have seen just that: a 97-page, ad-free magazine titled "The New Kingdom," devoted to promoting Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), priced at $13.99.

“Our Closest Middle East Ally Destroying Terrorism” boasts one headline on the cover. “Improving Lives Of His People & Hopes For Peace” declares another. A banner at the top proclaims: “The most influential Arab leader transforming the world at 32.”

'The New Kingdom': Saudis push to address image issues
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The language used was fawning and constantly praised MBS.

The magazine was published several months prior to the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which the CIA attributes to a Saudi hit team under orders from MBS. The Saudi government has consistently denied that the crown prince had any involvement in the killing.

Juan Cole went on to write: “It was not immediately clear why Bezos made the Saudi connection, but political commentators were quick to recall that Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi government, was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, focusing often critical attention on Trump’s cosy relationship with the kingdom.”

Bezos wrote in Medium that the Washington “Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles”.

He added that Pecker was reportedly “apoplectic” about the Post’s investigation into the Saudi hit squad’s slaying of Khashoggi, and: “For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to have hit a particularly sensitive nerve.”

While Bezos has long been in the public eye because of Amazon's growth and his estimated $133bn fortune, he was thrust into the spotlight with his announcement in January that he and his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie, were divorcing.

That same day, the National Enquirer said it was publishing alleged intimate text messages between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, a former television anchor whom he was said to be dating.

On Sunday,  the kingdom's minister of state for foreign affairs said Saudi Arabia had "nothing to do" with the affair.

"This is something between the two parties, we have nothing to do with it," Adel al-Jubeir told CBS' Face the Nation when asked if Riyadh was involved in the leaks.

"It sounds to me like a soap opera," he said in an interview to be aired on Sunday, excerpts of which were posted on the network's website.

Jubeir said he was not aware of any links between the Saudi government and AMI or Pecker.

Investigation of leak

Bezos opened an investigation into how the messages could have ended up in the hands of the tabloid, led by longtime security consultant Gavin de Becker. De Becker told media that the leak was politically motivated.

AMI said in a statement on Friday that its reporting on an extramarital relationship involving Bezos was lawful and it would investigate his claims, according to Reuters.

"American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr Bezos," the company said.

Bezos and de Becker were not immediately available for comment, Reuters said, adding that Amazon also declined to comment. Shares of the world's largest online retailer were down 1.8 percent at $1,584.74.