Officials in U.S. to probe "Three Cups of Tea" charity

HELENA, Montana Wed Apr 20, 2011 10:36am EDT

Greg Mortenson poses with Sitara ''Star'' schoolchildren in Wakhan, northeastern Afghanistan in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters March 11, 2009. REUTERS/Central Asia Institute/Handout

Greg Mortenson poses with Sitara ''Star'' schoolchildren in Wakhan, northeastern Afghanistan in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters March 11, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Central Asia Institute/Handout

HELENA, Montana (Reuters Life!) - The charity created by Greg Mortenson, the author of book "Three Cups of Tea," is being examined after a television news show raised questions about it, officials said.

The television news show "60 Minutes" on Sunday reported that Mortenson was using the Central Asia Institute, based in Montana, to promote his books.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock said he has a responsibility to oversee nonprofits such as the Central Asia Institute, which has built schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"In recent days, concerns have been raised about the management and financial affairs of the Central Asia Institute," Bullock said in a statement.

"I've been in contact with attorneys for the institute and they have pledged their full cooperation in addressing our concerns. 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."

The Central Asia Institute did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.

The television report also said the Central Asia Institute spends more money domestically promoting the importance of constructing schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan than it spends to build them.

The move by the Montana attorney general came a day after Viking Press, the publisher behind Mortenson's memoir "Three Cups of Tea," said it was reviewing the bestseller following claims that parts of the book were fabricated.

The TV report raised questions about the veracity of some biographical details in the book, which Mortenson co-authored with writer David Oliver Relin.

The book describes Mortenson's unsuccessful attempt to climb K2 in South Asia and his encounter with impoverished Pakistani villagers who inspired him to build schools and other projects in the region.

The "60 Minutes" report disputed Mortenson's account in "Three Cups of Tea" of being kidnapped in the Waziristan region of Pakistan in 1996. The show interviewed people who knew Mortenson or met him in South Asia.

"Three Cups of Tea" is a New York Times bestseller that has sold over 4 million copies, according to a biography of Mortenson on the website of his charity. He lives in Montana with his family, and serves as executive director of the Central Asia Institute.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Greg McCune)

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