Jeff Bezos and his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez during a visit to India in January this year
While millions have been laid off and we teeter on the brink of a global recession, one man is peering down from the summit of the biggest pile of money the world has ever seen.
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.
Amazon’s share price has soared nearly 30 per cent this year, increasing Bezos’s personal fortune to $150 billion (£118 billion) as demand for his online shopping, streaming and delivery services boom. And experts say that wealth of $1 trillion – a thousand billion – 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 $38 billion 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.’
Michael Sanchez (right), the brother of Lauren Sanchez (left), accuses 56-year-old Bezos and his security consultant Gavin de Becker of defaming him
But that was before he became a billionaire with all the trappings, including a $165 million Hollywood mansion, an $80 million New York ‘mega-home’, a $40 million Washington DC mansion and a $65 million Gulfstream jet.
A friend to stars including Jennifer Lopez, Katy Perry and Barbra Streisand, Bezos is currently 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.
Naturally enough for a man of his stature, he owns a private space company called Blue Origin with the goal of making space travel an everyday reality. You could fairly say that Bezos’s ambitions are stratospheric – and beyond.
So it must be all the more 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 fiancee, 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 Donald Trump and Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
The case, which is gripping America, is as labyrinthine as its detail is compelling. First, Bezos sensationally claimed the notorious US tabloid the National Enquirer threatened to ‘blackmail’ him with the below-the-belt selfies.
Then it was suggested, that the pictures had been sold to the magazine for up to $200,000 by the brother of his own fiancee, Michael, Sanchez, who had been entrusted with handling Lauren’s personal media strategy. It is a charge that Michael denies so vehemently that he is now suing the richest man in the world for defamation.
Last night he broke a self-imposed vow of silence to tell The Mail on Sunday: ‘I have protected and supported my sister 100 per cent 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.
Amazon’s share price has soared nearly 30 per cent this year, increasing Bezos’s personal fortune to $150 billion (£118 billion) as demand for his online shopping, streaming and delivery services boom (file photo)
In Michael’s version of events, Federal investigators found he had no case to answer. ‘Once the FBI and Amazon’s own investigators cleared me of ever possessing the pictures used to blackmail Jeff, I thought I’d get a private apology, at a minimum. But Jeff and Lauren haven’t looked back,’ he said. ‘I’ve been thrown under the bus. Sadly, it’s likely the next time I see them will be in court.’
Perhaps it is no surprise that Bezos and his security consultant take a different view, saying in their legal defence – as if things weren’t complicated enough – that they never accused Michael Sanchez of leaking the naked pictures in the first place.
‘Mr Sanchez cannot prevail,’ say the court papers filed by Bezos and de Becker.
‘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 says the ongoing lawsuit prevents him from speaking further, but he has told friends that he is determined to have his reputation cleared in the most public manner possible.
‘Michael wants a front-page apology in The Washington Post, the newspaper Jeff owns,’ a source said last night.
‘He’s lost his reputation, his business and his sister over this whole debacle. Michael always did what was best for Lauren but he feels totally betrayed.
‘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!’
The romance between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez resulted in a flood of global headlines in January 2019, when it was revealed the billionaire had left his wife and Lauren had ditched her husband, powerful Hollywood agent Patrick Whitesell.
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 Donald Trump and Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia (pictured together)
Until that point, Bezos had seemed content to live a quiet life in Seattle with wife 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 in her own right as a D-list TV presenter in LA but through her husband Patrick, who is one of the most powerful agents in town, she knows everyone who is anyone.
‘For Lauren the attraction wasn’t money. She was already wealthy. It was power. And for Jeff she represented an entree into the world of glamour and showbusiness. But the truth is theirs is a real love story. They are crazy about each other. You only have to be around them for 30 seconds to realise they are like two teenagers in love. They can’t keep their hands off each other. Jeff loves the glamour and excitement of being in Lauren’s Hollywood world.’
When Bezos threw his fiancee a 50th birthday party last December, guests included Orlando Bloom and fiancee Katy Perry, Oscar-nominated actor Timothee Chalamet along with billionaire Barry Diller and his wife, designer Diane von Furtstenberg. Guests at another private soiree included Barbra Streisand, Demi Moore and Jennifer Lopez.
Friends of Michael say he first became aware of his glamorous sister’s affair with Bezos in the spring of 2018.
‘Lauren confided in him because she always told him everything,’ said one. ‘He’s four years older but they are like twins.
‘Michael wasn’t just Lauren’s brother, he was her agent, best friend and confidant.’
Bezos first met Lauren, a keen helicopter pilot, when she filmed footage for Blue Origin, his space company – and he seduced his new lover in a humble pick-up truck.
‘They were filming on his ranch and there were clearly sparks between them,’ said the friend. ‘Jeff came driving back in his truck and said ‘Do you want to go for a ride?’, and that’s when they ended up back at his house and had their first kiss. It sounds a bit mundane, but for someone like Jeff it was quite thrilling.
‘Michael didn’t want to like Jeff because it would have been easier that way. But as soon as he met him, they hit it off. And it was clear Lauren and Jeff were madly and crazily in love. Michael asked his sister, ‘If you have to choose between your husband and Jeff right now, who would it be?’ And she chose Jeff. Right from the beginning Jeff asked Michael to be involved in forming the PR strategy to deal with the fallout when the affair became public.’
The Mail on Sunday has seen a written proposal drawn up by Michael that outlines, in detail, how the couple should handle their romance. It begins simply with the advice ‘Breathe’, before going on to say: ‘Lock down social media, speak to immediate family ASAP (preferably in person).’
It had prepared ‘statements’ from Lauren and Jeff that echoed the ones the couple would release once their affair became public.
It is here that things start to 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 both the details and the intimate pictures that the besotted billionaire sent his lover – in exchange for cold, hard cash.
Michael freely 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’.
The friend said: ‘Michael did what he has always done for Lauren. He was trying to protect her. They came to him and asked about Lauren’s relationship with the billionaire… Michael bought time for his sister. He met with Enquirer representatives and, yes, he negotiated with them because he was trying to get a ‘soft landing’ for the story.
‘Backroom deals go on all over Hollywood, all the time. If someone is caught in an affair, you trade a story about another client to take the heat off. He did a deal with the Devil to protect his sister.’
It was not a success.
‘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 tabloid claimed its reporters had trailed Bezos and Sanchez ‘across five states and 40,000 miles, tailed them in private jets, swanky limos, helicopter rides, romantic hikes, five-star hotel hideaways and [enjoying] ‘quality time’ in hidden love nests’.
It also claimed to have obtained ‘raunchy messages and erotic selfies’ exchanged between the lovers.
One of the texts reportedly read: ‘I love you, alive girl.’
The story became a sensation and then took some further 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 savagely murdered by Saudi operatives.
Bezos has also been an outspoken critic of President Trump, prompting speculation the leak to the National Enquirer was politically motivated.
When Bezos (pictured) threw his fiancee a 50th birthday party last December, guests included Orlando Bloom and fiancee Katy Perry, Oscar-nominated actor Timothee Chalamet along with billionaire Barry Diller and his wife, designer Diane von Furtstenberg. Guests at another private soiree included Barbra Streisand, Demi Moore and Jennifer Lopez
Indeed, Trump appeared to take great delight in Bezos’s personal drama, telling reporters he wished the Amazon CEO good luck and adding that the divorce was ‘going to be a beauty’.
Bezos then caused a sensation in February 2019 when he released a blog post accusing the National Enquirer and its then publisher, David Pecker, of ‘extortion and blackmail’.
He published emails from Enquirer 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.
‘I won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favours, political attacks and corruption,’ Bezos wrote defiantly.
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’.
Michael vehemently denies he ever possessed the intimate pictures and insists his lawyers will grill his sister, Bezos, de Becker and National Enquirer staff under oath to prove his point.
The case is expected to come to court later this year.
In a statement to the website TMZ, Lauren said: ‘Michael is my older brother. He secretly provided my most personal information to the National Enquirer – a deep and unforgivable betrayal. My family is hurting over this… we truly hope my brother finds peace.’
Meanwhile, Michael’s lawyer Tom Warren said: ‘It is painful to litigate family matters in public, but Michael has suffered a great deal. His intentions were always to protect his sister.’
For his part, Michael tells friends he is determined to restore his reputation, saying: ‘I never provided any of those pictures. We will see them in court.’
He denies taking money, adding: ‘I did deals all the time on behalf of my sister and other clients. Money was never the motive.’
Indeed, Michael claims to have missed out on millions Bezos offered to fund a movie deal and give him a cut of any house sales.
The friend of Michael said: ‘Michael showed Jeff a $100 million house in Beverly Hills. Why would Michael risk a movie deal, all of it, to allegedly sell out his sister and Jeff to the tabloids?
‘It just didn’t happen. Michael is still protecting Lauren to this day.
‘There are no heroes in this story. When you get into this world of the super-rich, when you get around that sort of money, everyone has an agenda.
‘You have absolute power and absolute wealth and both can corrupt people absolutely.’