Buzzfeed published a report according to which a $1.6 billion bribe to President Donald Trump from ExxonMobil via a state-owned Chinese mining company has been confirmed as an elaborate hoax. The bribe was allegedly in exchange for nominating former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.
The cache of 35 documents alleging the transactions was purchased by a South African-Israeli named Yoni Ariel from an Italian businessman named Corrado Pasti for $9,000. Yoni Ariel, in turn, allegedly attempted to share the documents with various media outlets in the US, who declined.
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In an interview to Ynet, Yoni Ariel clarified, “I did not distribute anything, I only reviewed the documents. Once I realized they were fabricated, I alerted of the fact. Buzzfeed did a number on me.”
Officials examining the documents found numerous inconsistencies and thereafter were quickly identified as elaborate forgeries.
In Buzzfeed’s report, Yoni Ariel is alleged to have identified himself as a former journalist, a “cyber consultant,” and an anti-Apartheid activist in the seventies.
According to the report, after Buzzfeed confronted Ariel with the inconsistencies and inaccuracies, he insisted the documents were genuine until at last he was forced to admit that there are simply “too many question marks.”
“I took a few trips and eventually received copies of the documents… when American journalists started calling me, I said this was all I knew. They asked me if I thought the papers were real and I replied that I think the probability of their authenticity is higher than the probability of their lack of authenticity. But I said I couldn’t be certain.”
Gideon Meir, Israel’s former ambassador to Italy, who is also mentioned in the investigation stated, “This is a bizarre story… Contrary to the article, the journalist did not even try to go over the facts with me.”
Following these revelations, Buzzfeed issued its own response: “This investigation was reported extensively over the course of weeks of conversations, emails, and other communications with Mr. Ariel. Throughout nearly the entirety of our interactions with him, Mr. Ariel continued to vouch for his documents. He eventually came to doubt their veracity, which we acknowledge at the end of the article. We stand fully by our reporting, which relied heavily on Mr. Ariel’s own words and claims.” The statement added that “As for Mr. Meir, our attempts to contact him went unanswered. ”
By Ynet News
(Translated and edited by Fred Goldberg and N. Elias)