Blackmail

U.S. tabloid newspaper the National Enquirer display rack is seen in Washington
U.S. tabloid newspaper the National Enquirer display rack is seen in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

April 18, 2019

(Reuters) – American Media Inc (AMI) is selling its tabloid the National Enquirer for $100 million to James Cohen, chief executive of Hudson News , the Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the agreement.

The National Enquirer had admitted to paying hush money to help U.S. President Donald Trump get elected and been accused of attempting to blackmail Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

The weekly tabloid along with two sister publications will be purchased by the head of Hudson News known for its airport newsstands, the report said.

This comes a week after AMI had said it was looking at “strategic options” for the National Enquirer, as well as for the Globe and the National Examiner brands.

The sale is expected to reduce AMI’s debt to $355 million, the Washington Post report said.

Last week, the New York Times reported that owners of the National Enquirer were in talks to sell the tabloid to the California billionaire Ronald Burkle.

According to media reports, Paul Pope, one of the heirs of the National Enquirer founder Generoso Pope Jr, had also been in the list of bidders.

On Tuesday, Pope, according to the New York Post, dropped his bid to buy the supermarket tabloid from American Media.

Over its 92-year history, the National Enquirer has enticed readers in supermarket checkout lines with sensational headlines and photos about celebrities. The tabloid’s website claims it reaches an audience of 5 million.

Earlier in February, Amazon.com Inc CEO Bezos accused the publication of trying to blackmail him with the threat of publishing intimate photos.

The National Enquirer and Hudson News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Arjun Panchadar and Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel)

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FILE PHOTO: Lawyer Michael Avenatti walks out of federal court in New York
FILE PHOTO: Lawyer Michael Avenatti in New York, New York, U.S., March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

April 11, 2019

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) – Michael Avenatti, the high-profile lawyer known for his battles with U.S. President Donald Trump, was charged with 36 counts of fraud, tax evasion and other financial crimes in an indictment made public by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles on Thursday.

The indictment came about three weeks after Avenatti, who gained national fame for representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in her litigation against Trump, was arrested in New York on two separate criminal complaints filed by federal prosecutors in New York and California.

The indictment means the grand jury has found the California prosecutors have probable cause to pursue their charges.

Avenatti, 48, has said he planned to fight all the charges and plead not guilty.

“I look forward to the entire truth being known as opposed to a one-sided version meant to sideline me,” Avenatti, who is free on a $300,000 bond, wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Prosecutors in the office of the U.S. Attorney for California’s Central District have charged Avenatti with 10 counts of wire fraud, accusing him of misusing more than $12 million he received on behalf of clients following settlements and other negotiations.

“Money generated from one set of crimes was used to further other crimes, typically in the form of payments designed to string along victims so as to prevent Mr. Avenatti’s financial house of cards from collapsing,” Nicola Hanna, the U.S. attorney for California’s Central District, said at a news conference on Thursday.

Avenatti became a prominent critic of Trump and a frequent guest on cable television news while representing Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. She filed a lawsuit against the president over a nondisclosure agreement that in the weeks before the 2016 U.S. presidential election kept her from discussing her claims that they had an extramarital affair 10 years earlier.

Prosecutors say Avenatti misled clients and misused their funds to pay personal and legal expenses, to finance a coffee shop business he also ran and to pay for his share of a Honda private jet, according to the indictment. Federal authorities seized the jet on Wednesday, prosecutors said.

The indictment also accuses Avenatti of various tax crimes. He is accused of failing to file personal tax returns since 2010, and to pay $3.2 million in payroll taxes on his coffee business, even though he witheld some portion of this money from employee paychecks.

They also say he defrauded a Mississippi bank of $4.1 million in loans by submitting false tax returns for 2011 to 2013 that inflated his income.

Avenatti faces up to 333 years in federal prison if convicted on the California charges, prosecutors said. Federal sentencing guidelines typically call for defendants to serve less than the maximum time.

NIKE SCHEME

The New York prosecutors have separately accused Avenatti of trying to blackmail athletic wear maker Nike Inc for more than $20 million.

They said Avenatti and a co-conspirator, who they did not name, met with Nike’s attorneys on March 19 and told them they represented a former college basketball coach with information about Nike’s involvement in a scheme to bribe high school basketball players.

They threatened to go public unless Nike hired Avenatti to conduct an internal investigation for $15 million to $25 million, and paid an additional $1.5 million to the client, according to prosecutors. Avenatti also offered to accept a $22.5 million payment for his silence, prosecutors said.

The alleged co-conspirator is prominent Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity. Geragos, who has not been charged with a crime, has declined to comment on the case.

Daniels replaced Avenatti as her lawyer last month, and has said she was “saddened but not shocked” by his arrest.

Avenatti also involved himself in the investigation of sexual abuse charges against R&B singer R. Kelly by giving the Chicago state’s attorney’s office what he said was a tape of the performer having sex with an underage girl.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen, Brendan Pierson, Gina Cherelus, Gabriella Borter and Daniel Wallis; editing by Frank McGurty, Jonathan Oatis)

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FILE PHOTO: David Pecker, chairman and CEO of American Media, speaks at the Shape and Men's Fitness Super Bowl Party in New York
FILE PHOTO: David Pecker, chairman and CEO of American Media, speaks at the Shape and Men’s Fitness Super Bowl Party in New York City, U.S., January 31, 2014. REUTERS/Marion Curtis/File Photo

April 11, 2019

(Reuters) – American Media Inc on Wednesday said it is looking at strategic options for its U.S. tabloid newspaper the National Enquirer and may sell the publication.

AMI said in a statement that after a strategic operational review it began in August, it decided to explore “strategic options” for the National Enquirer in the United States and United Kingdom, as well as for the Globe and the National Examiner brands.

“We feel the future opportunities with the tabloids can be best exploited by a different ownership,” the company said in a statement. An AMI spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

National Enquirer has been embroiled in a battle with Amazon.com Inc Chief Executive and founder Jeff Bezos, who is also the owner of the Washington Post.

The world’s richest man, who has frequently been a target of ire from Trump, has accused the publication of trying to blackmail him with the threat of publishing intimate photos. AMI has defended its reporting on Bezos’ affair.

In addition, the National Enquirer’s reporting practices have come under scrutiny in the past year amid media reports that the tabloid engaged in a practice called “catch and kill” to protect U.S. President Donald Trump, in which it would pay for potentially damaging stories to prevent them from being published.

(Reporting by Sayanti Chakraborty in Bengaluru and Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Trump meets with Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House in Washington
FILE PHOTO: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during their meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

April 10, 2019

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Benjamin Netanyahu’s portrayal of Israel as a success story under his leadership and the showcasing of his rapport with U.S. President Donald Trump were vital ingredients in his triumphant election campaign.

The contest was effectively a referendum on Netanyahu’s rule as prime minister for the past decade, a test of his personality and character, after Israel’s attorney general announced in February he intends to charge him in three corruption cases.

In the end, voters kept to the right in granting a fifth term to a leader who has a reputation for getting things done, despite an array of former generals who stood against him — and were dismissed by Netanyahu as the “weak left”.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and will have the opportunity to plead his case at a pre-trial hearing against the filing of potential bribery and fraud charges.

The veteran leader, who served his first term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, crafted a bellicose campaign that focused voters on whether they should take a risk on his politically untested challenger, Benny Gantz.

Gantz, a former military chief, was joined in his centrist Blue and White party by two other prominent Israeli generals, a phalanx of officers that failed to unseat Netanyahu, an ex-commando who has held power since 2009.

On the campaign trail, Netanyahu, 69, dominated the news cycle, springing surprises on his supporters and opponents.

He went to the United States to get Trump to sign a decree recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in a 1967 Middle East war and considered by the United Nations to be occupied territory. He visited Russia to thank Moscow for honoring his request to recover the remains of an Israeli soldier lost in Syria.

With Trump already having recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Netanyahu further alarmed Palestinians by announcing during the campaign his intention to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if re-elected.

Palestinians seek a state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel captured the areas in the 1967 war and pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, while maintaining a blockade of the enclave.

On social media, Netanyahu pounded out alerts which included unproved accusations that Iran could blackmail Gantz after hacking his phone, although Tehran denied doing so.

“Much of the electorate evidently feels there is no worthy rival to (Netanyahu), and his political base does not believe that he is a crook,” said Amotz Asa-El, a fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

“Many voters felt more secure keeping in that seat the person who has performed at least reasonably well there, and arguably, more than reasonably well.”

RIGHT TURN

Despite his legal troubles, Netanyahu could bank on an electorate that had largely turned to the right since a 2000-2005 Palestinian uprising.

He also knew that when it came to trying to build a governing coalition he could rely on a likely alliance with ultra-Orthodox parties that have little in common with Israel’s secular left-wing and are hostile to one of Gantz’s partners — former finance minister Yair Lapid, who has been critical of the religious establishment.

“No one meets Netanyahu’s caliber in terms of his political power, assertiveness, his self-confidence and courage. No one has achieved that and I can’t see anyone getting there,” said Judie Raziel, a 60-year-old religious Jew who lives in the settlement of Maale Adumim in the West Bank.

Netanyahu kept his close ties with Trump in the public eye, erecting billboards in big cities showing the two smiling leaders shaking hands. Trump is hugely popular in Israel.

While Gantz cast himself as a force for national unity, Netanyahu doubled down on divisiveness. He excoriated Gantz as a friend to Israel’s 20-percent Arab minority and the darling of liberal media – codes, to many conservative ears, for dangers to the Jewish state.

Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler of the Israel Democracy Institute deemed the strategy saw “a one-to-one imitation” of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign: “This was about both spreading fear and sowing a victim-like mistrust in the democratic institutions.”

Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said Netanyahu played to his constituency by portraying any future Palestinian state as a threat to Israel’s security.

That meant, Zalzberg said, that “even those right-wing voters frustrated with Netanyahu’s conduct went with him”. Gantz stopped short of endorsing Palestinian statehood.

In the final days of the election, Netanyahu launched what Israeli political commentators dubbed a “gevalt strategy”, a Yiddish expression for alarm, aimed at motivating complacent supporters to get out and vote or risk his defeat at the hands of a resurgent left-wing.

On election day itself, Netanyahu went to a beach near the coastal city of Tel Aviv, urging sunbathers to get out of the water and save him at the ballot box – posting a video of his appeal on Twitter.

“The digital effort here was in the micro-targeting – getting the ‘right’ people to come out and vote after creating pressure on the Arabs not to,” Altshuler said.

(Additional reporting by Ron Bousso, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Timothy Heritage)

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FILE PHOTO: Jeff Bezos, president and CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, speaks at the Economic Club of Washington DC's
FILE PHOTO: Jeff Bezos, president and CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, speaks at the Economic Club of Washington DC’s “Milestone Celebration Dinner” in Washington, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

March 30, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The security chief for Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos said on Saturday that the Saudi government had access to Bezos’ phone and gained private information from it.

Gavin De Becker, a longtime security consultant, said he had concluded his investigation into the publication in January of leaked text messages between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, a former television anchor who the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper said Bezos was dating.

Last month, Bezos accused the newspaper’s owner of trying to blackmail him with the threat of publishing “intimate photos” he allegedly sent to Sanchez unless he said in public that the tabloid’s reporting on him was not politically motivated.

In an article for The Daily Beast website, De Becker said the parent company of the National Enquirer, American Media Inc., had privately demanded that De Becker deny finding any evidence of “electronic eavesdropping or hacking in their newsgathering process.”

“Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information,” De Becker wrote. “As of today, it is unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details.”

A spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately return a request for comment. In February, the kingdom’s minister of state for foreign affairs said Saudi Arabia had “absolutely nothing to do” with the National Enquirer’s reporting on the affair.

A representative for AMI did not immediately respond to a request for comment. AMI has previously said that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the Bezos story.

De Becker said he has turned over the findings of his investigation to U.S. federal officials, without elaborating.

(Reporting by Christopher Bing; Editing by Mary Milliken and Rosalba O’Brien)

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Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May answers questions in the Parliament in London
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May answers questions in the Parliament in London, Britain, March 20, 2019 in this screen grab taken from video. Reuters TV via REUTERS

March 20, 2019

By Elizabeth Piper, Kylie MacLellan and William James

LONDON (Reuters) – France threatened to reject British Prime Minister Theresa May’s request for a three-month delay to Brexit on Wednesday unless she can guarantee to get her departure plans though parliament, potentially sending Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal.

May asked the European Union to allow Britain to extend Brexit to June 30 and EU leaders are expected to discuss the matter at a summit on Thursday. The decision must be taken unanimously by all remaining 27 EU members.

Some EU states, including Germany, had given a largely positive response to May’s well-flagged request.

But with the clock ticking toward Britain’s formal departure date on March 29, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said May would need to make her case before EU leaders in Brussels.

“Our position is to send the British a clear and simple message: as Theresa May said repeatedly herself, there are only two options to get out of the EU: ratify the Withdrawal Agreement or exit without a deal,” Le Drian told the French parliament.

“A situation in which Mrs May was not be able to present to the European Council sufficient guarantees of the credibility of her strategy would lead to the extension request being dismissed and opting for a no-deal exit,” he said.

May’s initiative came just nine days before Britain is formally due to leave the European Union and marked the latest twist in more than two years of negotiations that have left British politics in chaos and the prime minister’s authority in tatters.

After the defeats in parliament opened up the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal and a smooth transition, May said she remained committed to leaving “in an orderly manner” and wanted to postpone Brexit until June 30.

Her announcement prompted uproar in parliament, where the opposition Labour Party accused her of “blackmail, bullying and bribery” in her attempts to push her deal through, and one prominent pro-Brexit supporter in her own Conservative Party said seeking a delay was “betraying the British people”.

Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU by 52 to 48 percent, but the decision has split the country, opening up divisive debates over the future of the economy, the nation’s place in the world and the nature of Britishness itself.

A European Commission document seen by Reuters said the delay should either be several weeks shorter, to avoid a clash with European elections in May, or extend at least until the end of the year, which would oblige Britain to take part in the elections.

The pound fell sharply as May requested her extension.

(Additional reporting by by Kate Holton and Alistair Smout in London and Alastair MacDonald in Brussels; Writing by by Guy Faulconbridge and Giles Elgood; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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FILE PHOTO: Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party speaks to the media in Kibbutz Nir-Am
FILE PHOTO: Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party speaks to the media in Kibbutz Nir-Am, Israel March 15, 2019 REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

March 20, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Iran on Wednesday denied an Israeli media report that its intelligence service had hacked the mobile phone of Benny Gantz, the main challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in next month’s election.

The alleged hack, first reported by an Israeli TV station, was not confirmed or denied by the Israeli national security agency Shin Bet.

The report has been aired repeatedly by Netanyahu’s Likud party in a bid to cast Gantz, former head of the Israeli armed forces, as weak on security and possibly vulnerable to blackmail.

Gantz has confirmed that his phone was hacked but said it carried no sensitive information. He has not blamed Iran.

Answering a question about the report, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said that “the (Israeli) regime’s officials are long used to spreading lies”, according to the state news agency IRNA.

“They use their propaganda tools to link any event in the world to Iran.”

Qasemi said the allegations were part of an Israeli “psychological war” aimed at stoking hostility.

The two arch-enemies have long been locked in a shadow war. Israel and the United States are widely suspected of deploying the Stuxnet malware, uncovered in 2010, that sabotaged components of Iran’s nuclear program.

Iranian hackers have been behind several cyber attacks and online disinformation campaigns in recent years as Iran tries to strengthen its clout in the Middle East and beyond, a Reuters Special Report published in November found.

The European Union digital security agency said in January that Iran was likely to expand its cyber espionage as its relations with Western powers worsen.

Qasemi also denied reports by Australian media in February that attempts to hack into the Australian parliament’s computer network originated from Iran.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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FILE PHOTO: Italian Deputy Prime Minister and right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini attends a news conference at the Foreign Press Club in Rome
FILE PHOTO: Italian Deputy Prime Minister and right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini attends a news conference at the Foreign Press Club in Rome, Italy December 10, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

March 19, 2019

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) – Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on Tuesday he would not let an Italian-flagged charity ship disembark 49 Africans rescued in the Mediterranean, setting up a fresh confrontation with humanitarian groups over migration.

The Mare Jonio picked up the migrants, including 12 minors, on Monday after their rubber boat started to sink in the central Mediterranean, some 42 miles (68 km) off the coast of Libya.

The vessel headed straight for the nearby Italian island of Lampedusa but was not granted permission to dock and is currently sailing close to land, awaiting further instructions.

Salvini, who heads the anti-immigrant League party, has told non-governmental organizations that Italy’s ports are closed to them, accusing them of playing into the hands of human traffickers — which they have denied.

“Italy must not give in to blackmail by a ship run by the social centers,” Salvini said on Twitter, referring to left-wing groups that have helped finance the Mare Jonio.

The collective that organized the sea rescue, “Mediterranea”, said it had operated in accordance with international human rights and maritime law. “Italy must indicate a safe haven,” it said in a statement.

New arrivals to Italy have plummeted since Salvini took office last June, with just 348 migrants coming so far this year, according to official data, down 94 percent on the same period in 2018 and down 98 percent on 2017.

His closed-port policy has helped support for his League party double since March 2018 elections, with Italians backing his uncompromising stance after almost 650,000 migrants came to Italy from North Africa between 2014 and early 2018.

However, humanitarian groups say his actions have driven up deaths at sea and left many migrants languishing in overcrowded, dangerous Libyan detention centers.

Mediterranea said its rescue operation had saved the migrants either from death or from being picked up by Libyan coastguards and “taken back to suffer again the torture and horror from which they were fleeing”.

Earlier this year, Salvini kept a Dutch-flagged vessel, run by a German charity, at sea for more than two weeks with nearly 50 migrants aboard before neighboring Malta agreed to let the ship disembark there.

However, Salvini will struggle to find a similar solution this time because the Mare Jonio is Italian-flagged.

Last August, he blocked an Italian coastguard ship with 150 migrants aboard for almost a week before relenting. Magistrates put him under investigation for abuse of power and kidnapping and have asked parliament to strip him of his immunity from prosecution.

The upper house Senate is due to vote on that on Wednesday, but the request looks certain to be rejected, with Salvini arguing that he acted in the national interest.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party speaks to the media in Kibbutz Nir-Am
Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party speaks to the media in Kibbutz Nir-Am, Israel March 15, 2019 REUTERS/Amir Cohen

March 15, 2019

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s toughest rival in Israel’s upcoming parliamentary election, dismissed as “political gossip” on Friday media reports of allegations that his mobile phone had been hacked by Iranian intelligence.

The former Israeli armed forces chief was speaking near the border with Gaza following a day which saw the most serious escalation in months between Israel’s military and Palestinians in the coastal enclave.

“We’re in the middle of an ongoing security event…and someone’s putting out a political gossip story,” Gantz said. “I do not think Benny Gantz is the story here. There’s no security issue there. No threat and no blackmail.”

Israel’s Channel 12 news reported on Thursday that the country’s Shin Bet security services believed Iranian state intelligence had accessed the ex-general’s personal information and correspondences and had informed him of the hack five weeks ago.

Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party has outpaced Netanyahu’s conservative Likud in polls in the run-up to the April 9 vote.

Israel and Iran, arch-enemies, have long been locked in a shadow war. “Iran attacks Israel on a daily basis,” Netanyahu told a cyber-security conference in January.

Israel and the United States are widely suspected of deploying the Stuxnet malware, uncovered in 2010, and which sabotaged components of Iran’s nuclear program.

(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Lindsey Graham is ‘jeopardized’ because he might be “Gay” according to a Hard-left Dem recently accused of ‘awesome bigotry’ A hard-left Democrat from Minnesota is buried in responses and grievances of homophobia after replicating ungrounded complaints pushed by MSNBC as well as additionally liberal activists that Republican political leader Sen. Lindsey Graham is being blackmailed […]


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