April 20, 2011 / 2:02 AM / in 7 years

Montana opens inquiry into "Three Cups of Tea" charity

HELENA, Montana (Reuters) - “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson’s Montana-based charity is being examined by the state’s attorney general, after a “60 Minutes” broadcast raised questions about it, officials said on Tuesday.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock said he has a responsibility to oversee nonprofits such as Mortenson’s 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.

On a Sunday broadcast, the CBS news program “60 Minutes” reported Mortenson was using the institute to promote his books, including “Three Cups of Tea,” even though the charity receives no income from the bestseller.

The report also said the Central Asia Institute spends more money domestically promoting the importance of building 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 CBS 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.

“60 Minutes” report disputed Mortenson’s account in “Three Cups of Tea” of being kidnapped in the Waziristan region of Pakistan in 1996. The CBS report was based on interviews with 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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