Federal prosecutors in New York are planning to meet with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos about his claims that the National Enquirer tried to blackmail him with help from Saudi Arabia, a person familiar with the plans said Thursday.
The billionaire will meet with prosecutors in the coming days as part of an inquiry into claims that the Saudi government hacked his phone and obtained private information that ended up in the tabloid's possession, the person told The Associated Press. The person was not authorized to discuss the meeting and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The meeting comes after Bezos' longtime security consultant, Gavin de Becker, wrote in The Daily Beast last month that private investigators had "concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos' phone and gained private information."
The Enquirer's parent company, American Media Inc., has had business dealings with Saudi Arabia, but the kingdom has denied any role in hacking Bezos' phone or providing his private information to the Enquirer. Saudi Arabia's minister of state for foreign affairs said recently that the kingdom had "absolutely nothing to do with" the matter.
"This sounds to me like a soap opera," the minister, Adel Al-Jubeir, told CBS' "Face the Nation." ''This is something between the two parties."
Messages were sent to AMI seeking comment Thursday. An attorney for the company, Elkan Abramowitz, has denied that the Enquirer committed extortion and defended the tabloid's handling of the situation as part of a standard legal negotiation.
Bezos, the world's richest man, has said the Enquirer threatened to publish explicit photographs of him unless he publicly declared that the tabloid's coverage of him was not politically motivated and stopped investigating how it obtained private texts between Bezos and his mistress, former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that AMI paid $200,000 to Sanchez's brother, Michael Sanchez, to obtain Bezos' intimate texts. But de Becker suggested the Enquirer had been aware of Bezos' affair before it ever reached out to Sanchez's brother, and that the "initial information came from other channels."
De Becker didn't describe what evidence he had backing his assertion that Saudi Arabia got access to Bezos' phone, saying he couldn't disclose specifics of the investigation "to respect officials pursuing this case."
He said his inquiry "included a broad array of resources," including discussions with Saudi dissidents and whistleblowers and "people who personally know" Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan declined to comment. Bezos' attorneys also had no comment.
When he first aired his allegations against the Enquirer in a blog post, Bezos alluded to a possible relationship between AMI and Saudi Arabia, writing that "the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve."
Last year, the tabloid produced a glossy magazine that included 97 pages saluting Saudi Arabia ahead of bin Salman's arrival in the U.S. on a public relations blitz to promote his country.
AMI sent a letter to the Justice Department in May saying it had allowed a representative of the Saudi government to review a draft of the magazine and suggest changes before it went to press. The company said neither the Saudi crown prince nor his representatives had asked for the publication to be produced, that it was made solely based on a business decision, and that no foreign funding was involved.
The letter sought guidance on whether AMI's relationship with Saudi Arabia required it to register as a foreign agent under U.S. law. The Justice Department said that, based on the information provided by the company, it did not.
AMI's chief executive, David Pecker, is a longtime friend of President Donald Trump.
During the 2016 election, the company assisted Trump's presidential campaign by paying $150,000 to Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal for the rights to her story about an alleged affair with Trump and then burying the story.
The U.S. attorney in New York agreed not to prosecute the company in exchange for its cooperation into an investigation of Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other crimes.
That agreement required the company to break no laws.