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Jeff Bezos has accused the National Enquirer’s publisher of “extortion and blackmail” in an explosive blog post

The Amazon founder and world’s richest man wrote on the Medium website that the tabloid had threatened to publish intimate photos and text messages between him and Lauren Sanchez, the woman he has been dating, unless he called off an investigation into how it obtained the messages.

The US’s biggest tabloid publisher published a series of stories revealing Bezos’s relationship with Sanchez, a former television presenter, including text messages between the couple.

“Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favours, political attacks and corruption,” Bezos wrote.

This story has a strong political angle because President Donald Trump, a frequent and scathing critic of Bezos, is close friends with David Pecker, the chief executive of the National Enquirer’s parent company American Media Inc.

A reporter from the Bezos-owned Washington Post said on MSNBC last night that he believed “a government agency” accessed the Amazon chief executive’s texts and intimate photos.

As you can imagine, Twitter turned giddy immediately after the blog post was published, while the Guardian has a useful profile of Pecker from last August. (FT, HuffPo, WashPo)

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 19, 2018 Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos provides the keynote address at the Air Force Association's Annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference in Oxen Hill, Maryland. - Amazon on January 31, 2019 reported its profit in the past quarter surged on strong holiday retail sales and its soaring cloud computing business.The US tech giant said profit jumped 63 percent from a year ago to $3.0 billion in the fourth quarter as revenues increased 20 percent to $72.4 billion.The results reflected growth in Amazon's ever-expanding online retail operations as well as its large cloud computing division known as Amazon Web Services.Chief executive Jeff Bezos highlighted the role of Amazon's digital assistant Alexa as the company moves into infusing artificial intelligence into its smart speakers and other devices in a race for dominance in the "internet of things" market. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
© AFP

In the news

Trump will not meet Xi
Donald Trump has ruled out meeting Chinese president Xi Jinping before a March 1 deadline for the US to reach a trade deal with Beijing. The news has sent shares skidding lower around the world. Meanwhile, our trade editor James Politi says the prospect of the US government imposing tariffs on imports of cars and car parts is filling European policymakers in Brussels with dread.

Thailand election shocker 
A senior member of the Thai royal family will participate in an election for the first time. Ubolratana Rajakanya, the older sister of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, has been nominated as a prime ministerial candidate by a leading party. (FT)

Khashoggi revelation 
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017 vowed to use a “bullet” on Jamal Khashoggi unless the journalist who was allegedly killed by Saudi agents last year stopped criticising the regime in Riyadh, according to The New York Times. The development will add to suspicions the prince ordered the killing — a charge Riyadh strongly denies. (FT)

Bank bump 
Mash-ups of big financial institutions have been verboten since the financial crisis. So SunTrust Banks and BB&T’s $66bn merger (sealed with a fist bump) is a big deal in changing that narrative. Lex says prepare for a “slew of copycat deals”. The FT’s Due Diligence team also parses the new dawn for bank M&A. (FT)

Democrats lay out ‘Green New Deal’
Democrats have unveiled their plan for a Green New Deal in the US, which proposes to cut greenhouse gas emissions while creating millions of jobs through a “10-year national mobilisation”. Our commentator Edward Luce says rightly there is excitement about the Democrat initiative but by excluding nuclear power, he argues it is liable to political correctness.

Meanwhile, in Brexit . . .
A secret group at the heart of the UK government is drawing up plans to kick-start the British economy in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The revelations come as US lawmakers waded in to the Irish border debate. Washington warned that the UK must ensure a “soft” Irish border if London wants to secure a trade deal with the US. (FT)

Have you kept up with the news this week? Take our quiz. Ikea’s first furniture leasing trial is set to take place in which country — Sweden, UK or Switzerland? 

The day ahead

EU: copy that 
The endgame might be approaching for the EU’s vexed copyright directive. EU ambassadors will meet on Friday for a last-ditch attempt to agree on a compromise and whether it should apply to smaller tech companies. A final agreement is expected by next week. (FT)

What we’re reading

Malpass puts it on the table
David Malpass, Donald Trump’s pick to lead the World Bank, has written an FT op-ed saying what he would do as president of the institution. It comes one day after the FT editorial board called him a poor choice. (FT)

Wirecard: inside an accounting scandal A year ago Edo Kurniawan, a jovial 33-year-old Indonesian who runs the Asia-Pacific accounting and finance operations for global payments group Wirecard AG, called half a dozen colleagues into a Singapore meeting room. He picked up a whiteboard pen and began to teach them how to cook the books. This is the inside story of why the accounting practices at one of Europe’s few technological success stories are being called into question. (FT)

Are universities worth it? 
Andrew Jack’s Big Read on the challenges of higher education in Britain has spurred a lot of debate among FT readers globally. Here are the best comments so far. (FT)

How to tame Big Tech 
Early Facebook investor — and now activist — Roger McNamee sets out how we can fight back as tech reaches ever deeper into our lives. As the FT Weekend editor puts it, this piece is a “must read for regulators, journalists and tech titans”. (FT)

. . . because it needs it 
Many popular iPhone apps secretly record your screen without asking and they don’t need to ask for permission. Worth reading if you use your phone to book travel, for banking or shopping. (Basically if you use your smartphone). (TechCrunch)

Venezuela flashpoint
Our reporter has visited Cúcuta, the city on the River Táchira that separates Colombia from Venezuela and is the latest flashpoint in the fast-moving battle for future control of the crisis-stricken country. A convoy of trucks arrived on Thursday carrying food and medicine destined for the impoverished people of Venezuela. The delivery has been arranged by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó and his allies in the US and some 40 other countries.

Which brings us to cryptocurrencies 
The FT’s Henry Mance has digested the news of the millions of dollars clients can’t access after the head of a Canadian cryptocurrency website died suddenly, leaving the fortune in assets frozen. “Cryptocurrency platforms’ greatest achievement is to make Facebook look like a model of responsible governance,” he writes. (FT)

Culinary misconceptions 
Fruit juice is healthy. Fat is bad. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A look at incorrect things many believed about food 25 years ago. It begs the question of what existing myths we will look back on 25 years from now as nonsense. While we’re on the topic, by the way, the old saying “Beer before wine and you’ll feel fine, wine before beer and you’ll feel queer” is another. (Mashed, Bloomberg)

Face it
A facial recognition software program that helps shop assistants spot known shoplifters in Rio de Janeiro’s biggest mall began life in a wine bar on the north bank of the river Thames in London. Here’s the full story of how the bar’s owner first developed the software to stamp out the rampant pickpocketing that took place in his Victorian drinking cellar.

Video of the day

Women in the workforce
How can governments encourage more women to join the workforce? It is cultural, cyclical but it is also fixable. FT Alphaville’s Brendan Greeley (Disclaimer: Brendan has four children and a wife that works) looks at the different approaches taken by governments in the US, Canada and Sweden. (FT)

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