Amazon executives, including founder Jeff Bezos, may have misled or lied to Congress about the company’s business practices, top US lawmakers said.
Members of the House Justice Commission said they wanted to refer the company “for criminal investigation”.
It follows a Reuters investigation which claimed that Amazon copied products and rigged its search results in India to boost sales of its brands.
Amazon firmly denies the allegations.
“Amazon and its executives did not mislead the committee and we denied and tried to correct the record on the inaccurate media articles in question,” a spokesperson said.
On Monday, five members of the US House Judiciary Committee wrote to Amazon boss Andy Jassy, who succeeded Bezos in July.
They said that “a credible report” from Reuters and recent articles in other media outlets “directly contradicts the sworn testimony and representations of Amazon’s top executives, including former CEO Jeffrey Bezos.”
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“At best, this report confirms that Amazon representatives misled the committee. At worst, it shows that they may have lied to Congress in a possible violation of federal criminal law,” the letter said.
Since 2019, the House Justice Commission has investigated competition in digital markets, including how Amazon uses third-party vendor data from its platform and whether the company unfairly favors its products.
In sworn testimony before the Judicial Committee’s antitrust subcommittee last year, Bezos said the company prohibits employees from using data on individual sellers for the benefit of Amazon’s own-brand product lines.
In another hearing in 2019, Nate Sutton, Amazon’s associate general counsel, said the company has never used such data to create its own branded products or manipulate search results for private gain.
“The algorithms are optimized to predict what customers want to buy regardless of the seller,” he said.
However, Reuters’ investigation, based on thousands of pages of Amazon internal documents leaked to the news agency, contradicted these claims.
The news agency said that, at least in India, Amazon had a secret search result manipulation policy to favor Amazon’s products, as well as copying other sellers’ goods.
Reuters also said that at least two of the company’s senior executives were aware of the policy.
The letter from lawmakers also cites other recent stories in the Markup, Wall Street Journal, and Capitol Forum about Amazon’s private label products and the use of seller data.
Lawmakers gave Jassy time until November 1 to provide evidence to support the company’s previous testimonies and statements.
Their letter also notes that “it is criminally illegal to knowingly and intentionally make statements that are materially false, conceal a material fact, or otherwise provide false documentation in response to a Congressional investigation.”
“We strongly encourage you to use this opportunity to correct the record … as we consider whether a referral of this matter to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation is appropriate,” the letter states.
In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson called the claims made by Reuters and other media outlets “factually erroneous and unsubstantiated.”
They added: “As we stated earlier, we have an internal policy, which goes beyond that of any other retailer’s policy that we are aware of, that prohibits the use of individual vendor data to develop private label products. Amazon.
“We investigate any allegations of violation of this policy and take appropriate action.”
Big tech companies including Amazon, Facebook and Alphabet have come under increasing scrutiny in Washington, Europe and other parts of the world.
Regulators are worried about having too much power and engaging in unfair practices that harm other businesses.
The lawmakers’ letter was signed by a bipartisan group that includes Democrats Jerrold Nadler, David Cicilline and Pramila Jayapal and Republicans Ken Buck and Matt Gaetz.
In India on Monday, a trade group representing thousands of brick-and-mortar retailers urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take action against Amazon.
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