IF it was the plot line from a pot boiler novel for sale on Amazon, it would be deemed ridiculously far-fetched.
The world’s richest man allegedly had his phone hacked using the personal account of the despotic Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
Then racy leaked pictures from the phone — including a “below the belt selfie” — were said to have ended up in the hands of a US tabloid and used, so it’s claimed, in a blackmail attempt.
Meanwhile, a journalist who worked for a company owned by the rich man, is found hacked to death by Saudi agents — apparently under orders from the Prince.
Yet as absurd as they sound, those are the bizarre accusations swirling around Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (known as MBS) — yesterday given credence by UN investigators.
A story of a gruesome murder, a “d*** pic” and ruthless geopolitics, it is said to have begun with a friendly WhatsApp message.
Filthy-rich Bezos, 56, had no reason to be suspicious when he received the message from MBS’s personal number on May 1, 2018.
A few weeks earlier, the pair had dined in Hollywood. Bezos wanted to scope out opening data centres in Saudi and MBS was looking to rebrand his oil-rich kingdom.
Numbers were swapped and a friendship between two of the world’s most powerful men was apparently sealed.
Yet the WhatsApp link MBS later sent Bezos — said to contain a video attachment with Saudi and Swedish flags on it and Arabic text — was also said to contain hacking malware.
Within hours, Bezos’s phone was drained of its data. And, if reports are to be believed, some very compromising photos.
Eight months later US supermarket tabloid The National Enquirer exposed Bezos’s affair with glamorous TV news anchor Lauren Sanchez.
It said Bezos — who also owns the prestigious Washington Post — had cheated on his wife after “whisking his mistress off to exotic destinations on his $65million jet” and “sending her raunchy messages and erotic selfies”.
The Enquirer also published texts said to be from Bezos to Sanchez saying: “I love you, alive girl. I will show you with my body, and my lips and my eyes, very soon.”
Bezos, worth £88billion, then unleashed feared investigator Gavin de Becker to discover the source of the leak to the Enquirer — owned by David Pecker, 68, a long-time close pal of Donald Trump — “with whatever budget he needed”.
De Becker, 65, who has advised the US government, law enforcement and thousands of celebs on security, including Elizabeth Taylor and Cher, soon made headway.
All signs pointed to Lauren’s estranged brother Michael Sanchez — not least, de Becker says, from signs waved by the Enquirer’s parent company AMI.
De Becker said: “What was very unusual, was how hard AMI people worked to publicly reveal their source’s identity.
“First through strong hints they gave to me, and later through direct statements, AMI practically pinned a ‘kick me’ sign on Michael Sanchez.”
HELL BROKE LOOSE
De Becker kept digging, then all hell broke loose.
AMI sent Bezos a demand that it would publish images including a “d*** pic” of the billionaire and girlfriend Lauren’s “nether region” unless de Becker publicly stated the leak had not relied on “any form of electronic eavesdropping or hacking in their news-gathering process”.
In a bid to thwart the Enquirer’s plans, Bezos leaked emails he said were from AMI that detailed the revealing pictures it claimed were in its possession.
They were said to include: “A shirtless Mr Bezos holding his phone in his left hand — while wearing his wedding ring. He’s wearing either tight black cargo pants or shorts and is semi-erect.
“A naked selfie in a bathroom — Mr Bezos is wearing nothing but a white towel — and the top of his pubic region can be seen.
“Ms Sanchez wearing a plunging dress revealing her cleavage and a glimpse of her nether region.”
Releasing the emails on a blog, dad-of-four Bezos thundered: “Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten.”
AMI insisted it had obtained all its information on the Bezos story lawfully from Michael Sanchez and denied any involvement from Saudi Arabia. The Saudis also denied any part in the leak.
Yet further accusations followed.
In November 2018, Bezos is said to have received a message from MBS’s number that suggested the prince knew intimate details of the mogul’s private life.
It was said to have featured an image of a woman who resembled Lauren Sanchez. Yet, his affair with her had not yet been made public. At the time Bezos was, however, reportedly texting his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie, about divorcing. The photo in the message bore the caption: “Arguing with a woman is like reading the software license agreement.
“In the end you have to ignore everything and click I agree.”
Then on February 16, 2019, he received another message from MBS’s account after holding phone talks about the Saudis’ alleged online campaign against him.
It read that “there is nothing against you or Amazon from me or Saudi Arabia.”
The latest twist came this week when it emerged that a forensic technical analysis of the WhatsApp file sent by MBS to Bezos found it “highly probable” it contained malware that penetrated the Amazon chief’s phone.
So why would Saudi’s Crown Prince — up to his neck in a Middle East proxy war with Iran — want to shame a US mogul?
Reports have pointed to prominent Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, who was a high-profile critic of MBS and used the pages of Bezo’s Washington Post to criticise the Saudi regime.
The globally revered Post has won 47 Pulitzer Prizes and broke the Watergate scandal that led to US President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
According to reports, in September 2017, as Khashoggi wrote that Saudi Arabia was becoming “unbearable” because of its repression, MBS told an aide he would use a “bullet” on the paper’s columnist.
On October 2, 2018, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get documents for his marriage. He would never leave.
It later emerged he had been murdered by Saudi agents and hacked to pieces with a bone saw.
By November 16, 2018, the CIA were blaming MBS for ordering Khashoggi’s assassination.
Reports have also linked MBS to National Enquirer chief David Pecker. The pair met in September 2017, and six months later Pecker’s company published a glossy magazine hailing MBS as a great leader during his first US visit.
Trump ally Pecker was involved in “catch and kill” operations in 2016 to buy up stories and pay hush money to women involved in extra-marital affairs with the then-presidential candidate.
Now the circle has been completed on this astonishing saga, with the UN yesterday voicing its concerns that MBS was behind the hacking of Bezos’s phone.
UN human rights experts Agnes Callamard and David Kaye said: “The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, the Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia.”
They demanded an “immediate investigation by US and other relevant authorities”.
Saudi Arabia’s US embassy tweeted: “Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr Jeff Bezos’ phone are absurd. We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out.” Bezos’s rottweiler investigator de Becker said last year it was clear that “MBS considers the Washington Post to be a major enemy”.
The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, the Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia.
UN human rights experts
He added: “Saudi Arabia is hardly the first repressive regime that seeks total control of the news media in its own country.
“Wanting to control the media in the United States — and using any means to do so — will hopefully prove to be an overreach.”
A key British ally in the Middle East, MBS swept to power in Saudi as a reformer desperate to drag the kingdom into the 21st Century.
Now he stands accused of not only ordering cross-border assassination but of being involved in the dark arts of espionage too.
If the claims are true, he is also a prince who, despite ruling over a conservative religious nation, may have been complicit in the use of a “d*** pic” to attempt to silence a newspaper.