"Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson's charity will be investigated after questions were raised about how it managed its financial affairs, the Montana state attorney general said today.
Mortenson's book and his Bozeman, Mont.-based Central Asian Institute were the focus of a segment on CBS News' "60 Minutes" Sunday that raised allegations that he fabricated parts of the best-selling memoir and overstated his humanitarian achievements.
The "60 Minutes" segment also alleged that the Central Asian Institute took credit for building schools that didn't actually exist or were built by others, and that it spent more money on self-promotion than on humanitarian efforts.
Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock said today that he would investigate the issues raised by the report.
"I've been in contact with attorneys for the Institute and they have pledged their full cooperation in addressing our concerns," Bullock said. "While looking into this issue, my office will not jump to any conclusions -- but we have a responsibility to make sure charitable assets are used for their intended purposes."
Mortenson's publisher said Monday that it also wants to review "60 Minutes'" allegations that a key section of the book -- how Mortenson got lost while hiking in Pakistan and stumbled upon the village of Korphe, where he was taken in and cared for by the villagers -- is a fabrication.
The central conceit of "Three Cups of Tea" is that Mortenson's time with the villagers inspired him to return to the region to build a school for girls, setting him off on a campaign to build dozens of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Viking Books, Mortenson's publisher, seemed to support him in a short statement released Monday but also said it would investigate the claims.
"Greg Mortenson's work as a humanitarian in Afghanistan and Pakistan has provided tens of thousands of children with an education," the statement said. "'60 Minutes' is a serious news organization and in the wake of their report, Viking plans to carefully review the materials with the author."
Mortenson defended himself Sunday in an email to supporters before the "60 Minutes" segment aired, calling the report that criticized his memoir and accused him of financial improprieties "a distorted picture using inaccurate information."
"As those of you who know me and have supported my work over the years will recognize, the story being framed by '60 Minutes' to air in a few hours today -- as far as we can tell -- paints a distorted picture using inaccurate information, innuendo and a microscopic focus on one year's (2009) IRS 990 financial, and a few points in the book 'Three Cups of Tea' that occurred almost 18 years ago," Mortenson wrote in the email.
"The Board of Directors and I made the very difficult decision to not engage with '60 Minutes' on camera, after they attempted an eleventh hour aggressive approach to reach me, including an ambush in front of children at a book signing at a community service leadership convention in Atlanta," he wrote. "It was clear that the program's disrespectful approach would not result in a fair, balanced or objective representation of our work, my books or our vital mission."