Jeff Bezos, through a court filing by his lawyers, has hit back at allegations by his girlfriend’s brother that the Amazon founder and CEO defamed him.
On Jan. 31, Michael Sanchez, the brother of Bezos’ girlfriend Lauren Sanchez, filed a lawsuit alleging that Bezos and his security chief, Gavin de Becker, falsely spread information that Mr. Sanchez had supplied “graphic, nude photographs” of Bezos to the National Enquirer. Last year, Bezos explosively charged that the National Enquirer engaged in a scheme to blackmail and extort him through threats of publishing the compromising photos. The tabloid’s publisher, American Media, has said that Mr. Sanchez was the “single source” for its coverage of Bezos’ affair with Lauren Sanchez.
On Monday, lawyers for Bezos and de Becker said in a filing in California state court that Michael Sanchez’s claims were unsubstantiated and that his lawsuit amounted to “extortion.” The filing asked the court to dismiss Sanchez’s lawsuit.
“Extortion rears its head again in this lawsuit, this time not only aimed at Defendants but also directly threatening speech protected under the First Amendment,” the filing by Bezos and de Becker’s attorneys says. “By filing this lawsuit, Mr. Sanchez hopes to put himself back on the front pages and extract money from Defendants by leveraging the current media environment to harass them.”
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Sanchez’s lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
The lawyers for Bezos and de Becker claimed that neither the Amazon CEO or his security consultant had publicly accused Sanchez of leaking the nude photos to the Enquirer. Even so, they said in the filing, Sanchez’s defamation claims do not have any merit because it is “substantially true” that he provided the photos in question to the tabloid. In addition, they tried to swat away the defamation claim by arguing that Sanchez should be considered a public figure in this case.
“Mr. Sanchez’s defamation claim fails the most basic of requirements: it fails to identify any instance in which Defendants, or even any news report, published or made any of the alleged statements about him,” the filing says. The lawyers also accused Michael Sanchez of helping to create the entire “public controversy” and that he “surreptitiously earned $200,000,” a reference to the reported deal he struck with the Enquirer to provide texts and photos.
According to Bezos, AMI threatened to publish “below the belt selfie” pics it claimed it had in its possession unless Bezos dropped his investigation into how the Enquirer obtained his text messages and also that the Washington Post (which Bezos owns) stopped reporting on AMI’s ties to Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia. At the time, Bezos — who is the world’s wealthiest individual with a current net worth of $125 billion, per Forbes — claimed AMI’s actions were tantamount to extortion.
Last year, AMI’s initial response was that it acted “lawfully” in reporting the Bezos story, based on private texts between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, the ex-wife of Endeavor executive chairman Patrick Whitesell. The Enquirer’s report prompted Bezos to announce that he and his wife, MacKenzie, were getting divorced.
Meanwhile, last month U.N. forensic experts, after reviewing an analysis commissioned by Bezos, said the evidence suggested that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind a hack of Bezos’ iPhone “in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia.” Bezos had received a video through Facebook’s WhatsApp from the Saudi leader’s personal mobile phone in 2018, which allowed Bezos’ phone to be tracked, according to the analysis. The Saudi government has denied involvement in the alleged hack.