Bezos is in great shape
Amazon boss Jeff Bezos was already the richest man on the planet before the coronavirus pandemic locked us in our homes and forced us into the arms of the internet. Soon he could become the first trillionaire in history.
The company’s share price has soared nearly 30% this year, increasing Bezos’s personal fortune to $150 billion (R2.5 trillion) as demand for his online shopping, streaming and delivery services boom. Experts say wealth of $1trillion (R16.5trillion) is within reach by 2026, so rapidly is his fortune increasing.
It is not just Amazon that is in great shape. Bezos, himself, has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent months, from self-professed nerd to a Hollywood “player”. He’s barely recognisable, in fact. Since ditching MacKenzie, his wife of 26 years and paying her a record $38bn divorce settlement last June (instantly making her the third-richest woman on the planet), the emperor of online shopping has undergone a complete overhaul.
The balding pate with its wispy strands of hair has been shaved and buffed to a glossy bronze sheen. Hours with a personal trainer have left him with bulging biceps and a six-pack. Gone is the “geek uniform” of trainers and baggy chinos, replaced by a slick designer wardrobe and Gucci loafers.
Bezos once admitted: “I’m not the kind of person women fall in love with. I sort of grow on them, like fungus.” But that was before he became a billionaire with all the trappings, including a $165m Hollywood mansion, an $80m New York “mega-home”, a $40m Washington DC mansion and a $65m Gulfstream jet.
He is building what is reported to be the world’s biggest mega-yacht. A second, smaller vessel will float alongside just to house his collection of helicopters. He also owns a private space company called Blue Origin. You could fairly say that Bezos’s ambitions are stratospheric and beyond.
So it must be unsettling to find himself drawn into an unedifying family drama and a legal case that threatens to bring Bezos right back down to earth, along with his glamorous new fiancée, TV host Lauren Sanchez. And the key evidence on which he might well have to testify? A set of embarrassing photographs of the billionaire’s private parts that were allegedly “stolen” from Lauren’s phone.
Indeed, Bezos’s life has become a melodrama far more salacious than anything a Hollywood scriptwriter could dream up, mixing family betrayal with international intrigue involving US President Donald Trump and Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
The case is as labyrinthine as its detail is compelling. First, Bezos claimed the notorious US tabloid the National Enquirer threatened to “blackmail” him with the below-the-belt selfies. Then it was suggested the pictures had been sold to the magazine for up to $200000 by his fiancée’s brother, Michael Sanchez, who had been entrusted with handling Lauren’s personal media strategy. Michael vehemently denies this and he is now suing Bezos for defamation.
This past weekend he broke a vow of silence to tell The Mail on Sunday: “I have protected and supported my sister 100% since the day she was born. And I’ve willingly taken the fall for her too many times to count. What’s different this time is our family has been ripped apart and Lauren doesn’t seem to care.”
Michael accuses 56-year-old Bezos and his security consultant Gavin de Becker - now reportedly guarding Meghan and Harry in Los Angeles - of defaming him by falsely telling journalists that he was responsible for leaking the graphic photographs.
In Michael’s version of events, federal investigators found he had no case to answer. “Once the FBI and Amazon’s investigators cleared me of ever possessing the pictures used to blackmail Jeff, I thought I’d get a private apology But Jeff and Lauren haven’t looked back,” he said. “I’ve been thrown under the bus. ”
Bezos and his security consultant say in their legal defence that they never accused Michael of leaking the “naked pictures” in the first place. “Multiple sources cited in the complaint and by the media over many months show that Mr Sanchez leaked personal information and materials, including private text messages and photos, to the Enquirer... neither defendant has ever accused Mr Sanchez of leaking nude photos specifically.”
Michael told friends he was determined to have his reputation cleared.
“Michael wants a front-page apology in The Washington Post, the newspaper Jeff owns,” a source said.
“He’s lost his reputation, his business and his sister over this whole debacle. He’s determined to have his day in court and it’s not going to be pretty for the richest man in the world. Michael will air everyone’s dirty laundry. Bring it on!”
Bezos and Lauren’s romance resulted in a flood of headlines in January last year, when it was revealed the billionaire had left his wife and Lauren had ditched her husband, powerful Hollywood agent Patrick Whitesell. Until that point, Bezos had seemed content to live a quiet life in Seattle with MacKenzie and their four children. But it has been suggested that, as his wealth grew, so did his love of “the heady world of celebrity” and the geeky dad “turned Hollywood”.
“Jeff loves everything about LaLaLand; the parties, the glitz, the glamour,” said a source who knows the couple. “When he’s in a room with stars, he’s so happy. He’s like the nerd who has finally hit the jackpot and been invited to party with the beautiful people. He has the money and Lauren has the connections.
She was a minor celebrity but through her husband Patrick, she knows everyone who is anyone.
Friends of Michael say he first became aware of his sister’s affair with Bezos in 2018. “Michael isn’t just Lauren’s brother, he was her agent, best friend and confidant.”
Bezos first met Lauren, a keen heli- copter pilot, when she filmed footage for Blue Origin - and he seduced his new lover in a humble pick-up truck.
The Mail on Sunday has seen a written proposal drawn up by Michael that outlines, in detail, how the couple should handle their romance once their affair became public. It is here that things become murky, however.
Michael claims the National Enquirer got wind of the affair through, he believes, a woman who was in his sister’s inner circle. He also claims it was Bezos and Lauren who accused him of leaking the details and the intimate pictures that the besotted billionaire sent his lover “for cold, hard cash”.
Michael admits he entered into negotiations with the tabloid to try to “control the narrative” and present the relationship “as a great love story and not a tawdry affair”. He met with Enquirer representatives and, yes, he negotiated with them because he was trying to get a “soft landing” for the story.
“The National Enquirer printed everything they knew about the affair and the gloves came off,” continued the friend.
“Everything Michael had hoped to avoid - “a major, tacky scandal” - started unfolding.”
The story became a sensation and then took some mind-boggling twists.
It was reported that Bezos’s phone had been hacked in May 2018 - eight months before the National Enquirer story - allegedly via a file sent by Mohammed bin Salman on WhatsApp.
Bezos owns The Washington Post, whose reporter Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi operatives.
Bezos has also been an outspoken critic of Trump, prompting speculation the leak to the National Enquirer was politically motivated. Trump appeared to take great delight in Bezos’s personal drama, telling reporters he wished him good luck and adding that the divorce was “going to be a beauty”.
Bezos then caused a sensation in February last year when he released a blog post accusing the National Enquirer and its then publisher, David Pecker, of “extortion and blackmail”.
He published emails from its chief content officer Dylan Howard who, Bezos claimed, threatened to release pictures of his penis unless he agreed to stop investigating the source of their story, something he refused to do.
The National Enquirer has rejected any suggestion of blackmail or extortion, while the Saudi government dismissed claims it hacked Bezos’s phone as “a soap opera”.
The case is expected to come to court later this year. - Mail on SundayThe Independent on Saturday