Greg Mortenson Responds to Charges of Fraud

He has spoken after a 60 Minutes report questioned his best-seller 'Three Cups of Tea'

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Update Viking--Three Cups of Tea's publisher--has announced it will review the book's accuracy. See our coverage here.

Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea may be inspirational, but right now it's proving more controversial than anything else. In the best-selling book, Mortenson tells the story of how he happened upon the Pakistani village of Korphe in 1993 after getting separated from his party while climbing K2, and how the villagers' kindness moved him to establish a nonprofit--the Central Asia Institute (CAI)--to build schools for girls in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. Last night, a report on the CBS show 60 Minutes questioned the book's accuracy and Mortenson's management of his charity, prompting Mortenson to fire back over the weekend and today.

Here is how Mortenson and his organization are responding to CBS' four main charges:

  • Mortenson visited Korphe a year after his K2 climb. In a statement on CAI's website, Mortenson stands by his book and insists he visited Korphe after his climb in 1993 and again in 1994, adding that the villagers "have a completely different notion about time" than those in the West. He tells his hometown newspaper--Montana's Bozeman Daily Chronicle--that "the time about our final days on K2 and ongoing journey to Korphe village and Skardu is a compressed version of events" and that he'd simplified "the sequence of events for the purposes of telling what was, at times, a complicated story." He says he hopes the people making these "allegations and attacks ... know this could be devastating for tens of thousands of girls, for the sake of Nielsen ratings and Emmys."
  • Some of CAI's school's don't exist or don't appear to have received CAI support. Mortenson's personal assistant explains that CAI sometimes funds the construction of schools and sometimes only subsidizes teachers' salaries and supplies, and suggested that CBS may have visited the schools when school was not in session, according to The New York Times.
  • Mortenson uses his charity as a "private ATM machine." In an e-mail to supporters , Mortenson claims CBS "paints a distorted picture using inaccurate information, innuendo and a microscopic focus on one year's (2009) IRS 990 financial. In another statement, CAI confirmed that Mortenson and other CAI employees sometimes travel on chartered flights but explained that they do so because of Mortenson's "aggressive speaking schedule and "security risks." The organization also claims that "CAI appropriately receives a greater benefit from Greg's activities than Greg does himself."
  • Mortenson wasn't kidnapped by the Taliban. Mortenson says he was indeed "detained" by the Taliban in 1996 in the Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan but that he thought it best to "befriend the people detaining me." One of the supposed kidnappers tells CNN that Mortenson's account "is a pack of lies" and that Mortenson was treated as "an honored guest." CNN adds that the "Taliban had no presence in Waziristan in 1996, only arriving in the region after their fall from power in Afghanistan in the winter of 2001." 

If you missed it, here is last night's 60 Minutes segment:

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