Bezos says lawsuit filed by girlfriend’s brother is ‘extortion’

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on October 02, 2019.

Elif Ozturk | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos accused his girlfriend’s brother of seeking to extort him by suing for defamation, according to a court filing.

Responding to a defamation complaint by Michael Sanchez, lawyers for Bezos and his security lead Gavin de Becker filed a motion to strike the suit Friday in the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles County. In the lawsuit, Sanchez accused Bezos and de Becker of spreading inaccurate rumors to journalists that he had leaked nude photos of the executive to the National Enquirer.

Last February, Bezos alleged in a Medium post that the National Enquirer publisher American Media (AMI) blackmailed him by threatening to publish intimate photos of him and his girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, a former TV anchor. Bezos claimed they threatened to publish photos, including a “below the belt selfie,” if he refused to say the outlet’s coverage of him was not politically motivated. De Becker said his investigation found Michael Sanchez to be the paid source to the Enquirer. An AMI spokesperson previously told CNBC that Michael Sanchez was the single source for the story.

In their court filing, Bezos and de Becker’s lawyers say neither has ever accused Sanchez of leaking nude photos in particular. The filing says Sanchez’s claims do not meet the standards for defamation since the statements were “substantially true” and that Sanchez should be considered a public figure in the context of this situation, according to the defendants.

“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 claims.

The defendants accuse Sanchez of being driven by money and a desire for more publicity.

“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 claims. “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. But no matter what Michael Sanchez says or how many times he repeats himself, at the heart of his Complaint lies the same public controversy he helped generate and has tried to exploit—and from which he surreptitiously earned $200,000.”

-CNBC’s Annie Palmer contributed to this report.

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