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Greg Mortenson is a former mountain climber, best-selling author, humanitarian, and philanthropist. His non-profit organization, the Central Asia Institute (CAI), is dedicated to promoting education, especially for girls, in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and according to its web site, has established more than 140 schools there.
President Obama donated $100,000 to the group from the proceeds of his Nobel Prize. Mortenson's book, Three Cups of Tea, has sold more than four million copies and is required reading for U.S. servicemen bound for Afghanistan.
But last fall, we began investigating complaints from former donors, board members, staffers, and charity watchdogs about Mortenson and the way he is running his non-profit organization. And we found there are serious questions about how millions of dollars have been spent, whether Mortenson is personally benefiting, and whether some of the most dramatic and inspiring stories in his books are even true.
Greg Mortenson's books have made him a publishing phenomenon and sought-after speaker on the lecture circuit, where he has attained a cult-like status. He regularly draws crowds of several thousand people and $30,000 per engagement.
And everywhere Mortenson goes, he brings an inspirational message built around a story that forms the cornerstone of Three Cups of Tea and his various ventures - how, in 1993, he tried and failed to reach the summit of K2, the world's second tallest mountain, to honor his dead sister, how he got lost and separated from his party on the descent and stumbled into a tiny village called Korphe.
Greg Mortenson (speaking on big T.V. screen): My pants were ripped in half and I hadn't taken a bath in 84 days.
Mortenson (in T.V. interview): And I stumbled into a little village called Korphe, where I was befriended by the people and...
Mortenson (in another T.V. interview): They gave me everything they had: their yak butter, their tea. They put warm blankets over me, and they helped nurse me back to health.
Mortenson tells how he discovered 84 children in the back of the village writing their school lessons with sticks in the dust.
Mortenson (speaking on stage): And when a young girl named Chocho came up to me and said...
Mortenson (speaking on another stage): Can you help us build a school? I made a rash promise that day and I said, "I promise I'll help build a school." Little did I know it would change my life forever.
It's a powerful and heart-warming tale that has motivated millions of people to buy his book and contribute nearly $60 million to his charity.
Jon Krakauer: It's a beautiful story, and it's a lie.
Jon Krakauer is also a best-selling author and mountaineer, who wrote Into Thin Air and Into The Wild. He was one of Mortenson's earliest backers, donating $75,000 to his non-profit organization.
But after a few years, Krakauer says he withdrew his support over concerns that the charity was being mismanaged, and he later learned that the Korphe tale that launched Mortenson into prominence was simply not true.
Steve Kroft: Did he stumble into this village weak in a weakened state?
Krakauer: Absolutely not.
Kroft: Nobody helped him out. And nursed him back to health.
Krakauer: Absolutely not. I have spoken to one of his companions, a close friend, who hiked out from K2 with him and this companion said Greg never heard of Korphe till a year later.
Strangely enough, Krakauer's version of events is backed up by Greg Mortenson himself, in his earliest telling of the story. In an article he wrote for the newsletter of The American Himalayan Foundation after his descent from K2, Mortenson makes no mention of his experience in Korphe, although he did write that he hoped to build a school in another village called Khane.
Produced by Andy Court, Kevin Livelli and Maria Usman