Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is being sued for defamation by Michael Sanchez, the brother of his girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez.
The lawsuit accuses Bezos of spreading false rumors to journalists that Michael Sanchez had leaked nude photographs of Bezos to the National Enquirer. Gavin de Becker, Bezos' security chief, is also named in the complaint, which was filed late Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and does not offer any proof that Sanchez never had access to the photos of Bezos.
A lawyer for Bezos, William Isaacson, told CNBC in a statement: "My client has chosen to address this lawsuit in court and we will do that soon."
"Michael is my older brother. He secretly provided my most personal information to the National Enquirer — a deep and unforgivable betrayal," Lauren Sanchez said in a statement provided by her lawyer, Terry Bird. "My family is hurting over this new baseless and untrue lawsuit, and we truly hope my brother finds peace."
Enoch Liang, a lawyer for Michael Sanchez, said the lawsuit "speaks for itself, including allegations of Ms. Sanchez's intimate relationship with TMZ." In the lawsuit, Michael Sanchez claims his sister approached him about leaking information about her affair to TMZ.
"[Lauren Sanchez's] 'hurting' reaction, instantly provided to close friend Harvey Levin at TMZ, apparently from a Miami dance floor, speaks volumes," Liang added.
Last January, the Enquirer published intimate texts and photos that the Amazon CEO sent to Lauren Sanchez, a former TV anchor. Bezos alleged in a Medium post last February that National Enquirer publisher AMI blackmailed him by threatening to publish the photos, including a "below the belt selfie," if he didn't state that the tabloid's coverage of him was not politically motivated.
Bezos tasked De Becker with investigating how the Enquirer obtained the photos and text messages. De Becker said his investigation identified Michael Sanchez as a paid source of the Enquirer. An AMI spokesperson previously told CNBC that Michael Sanchez was the single source for the story.
A report from The Wall Street Journal said Michael Sanchez granted AMI the right to use the photos and text messages in exchange for $200,000.
Michael Sanchez has denied providing intimate photos of Bezos to the Enquirer and claims in the suit he "never had possession of the graphic photographs in question."
In the lawsuit, Michael Sanchez acknowledges he entered a nondisclosure agreement to "cooperate strategically" with AMI, but that he did it to "get ahead of the story" about Bezos' relationship with Lauren Sanchez. Michael Sanchez, who previously served as his sister's manager, also claims in the lawsuit that Bezos and Lauren Sanchez were told by a psychic in New Mexico to keep their relationship secret.
Michael Sanchez also alleges in the suit that de Becker and Bezos "peddled rumors" to the press that he was a part of a "conservative conspiracy with high-profile political operatives" and the Saudi government. He said de Becker cited his ties to Roger Stone and Carter Page, both associates of President Donald Trump, as evidence that he was working to "take down Mr. Bezos." Trump has often attacked Bezos, who is also the owner of The Washington Post, which the president has said treats him unfairly through its critical coverage of the administration.
The story of how Bezos' photos and texts landed in the Enquirer has since unfolded to involve the Saudi government. Last month, a security report commissioned by Bezos became public. In it, investigators alleged that Bezos' phone was hacked using malicious software delivered in a WhatsApp message that was sent by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. However, the report doesn't connect the Saudis to the photos leaked to the Enquirer.