"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."
Among those who have publicly declared their doubt about Mortenson's account of his early experiences in Pakistan is Jon Krakauer, author of the bestsellers "Into the Wild" and "Into Thin Air."
In the email, Mortenson said he had also turned down a request from Krakauer for an interview.
Porters who met Mortenson on his mountain trip in Pakistan dispute his being lost at the time and have said that he only stumbled into the village while returning from hiking K2, the second-highest mountain on earth, according to the "60 Minutes" report. They say that he didn't visit Korphe and meet the villagers mentioned in the book until a year later.
"It's a beautiful story. And it's a lie," Krakauer told "60 Minutes." "I have spoken to one of [Mortenson's] companions, a close friend who hiked out from K2 with him, and this companion said, 'Greg never heard of Korphe until a year later.'
"If you read the first few chapters of that book, you realize, 'I am being taken for a ride here,'" Krakauer said.
According to the website of the Central Asia Institute, which was co-founded by Mortenson and Jean Hoerni, the nonprofit has established more than 170 schools and helped educate more than 68,000 students, with an emphasis on girls' education.
During its investigation, "60 Minutes" said it found that several of the schools CAI said it had built and funded were empty or built by others, while several school principals said they had not received money from CAI in years.
The segment also reported that the CAI spends more donor money discussing the building of schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan than it does on actually building them -- while one charity group said that donor money is being used to promote Mortenson and his book.
"In 2002, [Mortenson's] board treasurer quit, resigned, along with the board president and two other board members," Krakauer told "60 Minutes." "He said, in so many words, that Greg uses Central Asia Institute as his private ATM machine. That there's no accounting. He has no receipts."
Mortenson defended himself, his organization and the integrity of his work, in a statement released Friday through CAI.
"I stand by the information conveyed in my book and by the value of CAI's work in empowering local communities to build and operate schools that have educated more than 60,000 students," Mortenson said.
"I continue to be heartened by the many messages of support I receive from our local partners in cities and villages across Afghanistan and Pakistan, who are determined not to let unjustified attacks stop the important work being done to create a better future for their children."
Mortenson also pointed to sexism in the countries where his organization had built schools as a cause of the controversy.
"Afghanistan and Pakistan are complex places, torn by conflicting loyalties, and some do not want our mission of educating girls to succeed," he said.
"Three Cups of Tea" was co-written with David Oliver Relinhis and has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide since its 2006 release by Viking, a division of Penguin Books.