Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the richest man on earth, wrote an article accusing American Media, the parent company of the National Enquirer, of blackmail and extortion. The accusation comes weeks after the National Enquirer published personal text messages between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, the woman he had been seeing while still legally married to MacKenzie Bezos.
In a post on Medium published Thursday afternoon, Bezos discloses that he launched his own investigation in to the National Enquirer, which is led by executive David Pecker, to find out how the tabloid was able to obtain Bezos’ personal text messages. In response to the investigation, the chief content officer of American Media Inc. (known as AMI) wrote to Bezos’ lawyers, threatening to publish more intimate photos of Bezos and Sanchez.
Bezos included the two emails he has received from AMI since February 5. One threatens publication of the photos, and the other is a numbered list of “proposed terms” of agreement, one of which includes a “public, mutually-agreed upon acknowledgement from the Bezos Parties, released through a mutually-agreeable news outlet, affirming that they have no knowledge of basis for suggesting that AM’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”
Rather than succumb to what he describes as attempted blackmail, Bezos chose to expose the communications, including the email addresses and phone numbers of AMI’s representatives.
“Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in [AMI’s] 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 wrote.
A representative for AMI responded on the morning of February 8, the day after Bezos’ published his letter, with the following statement:
“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.”
Jon Fine, AMI’s deputy general counsel, who sent one of the e-mails to Bezos’ legal team, has been at the company for only four months, according to his LinkedIn profile. Before that he worked at Amazon for nine years in various roles from November 2008 to January 2015, including associate general counsel and, most recently, as a director in the author and publishing relations team.
Elena Fast, a criminal defense lawyer at Blanch Law firm in New York City who has worked with the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Justice on criminal cases, does not believe the two emails themselves legally qualify as blackmail or extortion. “This was clever drafting,” Fast says. “Usually, extorters don’t come from big law firms. They’re usually individuals that have in their possession some sort of information that is embarrassing, so you see explicit threats. There’s certainly … the implication of it, but there is nothing explicit enough to rise to the level of criminal wrongdoing, in my opinion.”
Amazon’s stock closed Thursday at $1,614.37, down 1.6%. According to Forbes’ Real-Time Rankings, Bezos ended the day $2 billion poorer. However, he is still the richest man in the world by far, with a net worth that Forbes pegs at $133.5 billion.
This article originally appeared on Forbes