Reporting Amazon to the Department of Justice for possible criminal obstruction of Congress

US congressional committee asks Justice Department to investigate

Amazon.com company

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and some of its executives due to what lawmakers say is likely a criminal obstruction of Congress, according to people familiar with the matter and a letter containing the request.

The letter, dated March 9 and seen by The Wall Street Journal, was sent to US Attorney General Merrick Garland by Republican and Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee.

The letter accuses the Seattle-based tech giant of refusing to provide information sought by lawmakers as part of an investigation by the agency’s antitrust subcommittee into Amazon’s competitive practices. The letter alleges that the refusal was an attempt to cover up what it calls a lie that the company told lawmakers about its treatment of third-party sellers on its platform.

An Amazon spokeswoman said, “There is no factual basis for this, as evidenced by the sheer volume of information we have provided over several years of good faith cooperation with this investigation.”

In the past, Amazon has denied that the company or its executives misled the committee and said internal policy prohibits the use of individual seller data to develop Amazon products. The company said Amazon is investigating any allegations of policy violations.

The Ministry of Justice declined to comment.

Amazon has repeatedly said that it does not use the data of individual third-party sellers on its platform to inform the broad lines of its brands.


Photo:

Sebastian Hidalgo for The Wall Street Journal

“Amazon has repeatedly attempted to thwart the commission’s efforts to uncover the truth about Amazon’s business practices,” the congressional letter said, during the investigation. “For this, he must be held accountable.” The letter says it is alerting the Department of Justice to “potential criminal behavior by Amazon and some of its executives,” though it does not identify individuals.

The letter escalates tensions between Amazon and lawmakers who conducted a 16-month antitrust investigation into it and three other tech giants:

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Now known as Meta Platforms Inc.

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produce the investigation The October 2020 report criticized all four companies He launched legislative proposals aimed at curbing their power. But lawmakers’ interaction with Amazon has been particularly controversial, according to the people involved, and the new letter makes it the only company among the four that members of the Judiciary Committee have accused of illegal obstruction.

The dispute revolves around Amazon’s responses to lawmakers’ inquiries about how it uses data from third-party sellers on its platform when creating private-branded products, and how it treats these Amazon brands in its search results.

Amazon executives have repeatedly told members of the House of Representatives committee in written testimonials and responses that it does not use external individual seller data to inform the broad lines of its brands, nor does it privilege its products in search results on its platform.

A magazine investigation published in April 2020, citing internal documents and interviews with former Amazon employees, found that the company’s employees routinely This seller data has been used to develop products for their own brands. Subsequent reports from Reuters, Politico and Marcop showed that employees use this data and that Amazon favors its own products in search results. The lawmakers said they also obtained similar information through their private interviews with people including former Amazon employees.

When he appeared before the House Antitrust Committee in July 2020, the first time he had testified before Congress, the founder and CEO of Amazon

Jeff Bezos

he said Cannot guarantee that its policy has always been followed. He agreed to inform the committee members of the results of the internal investigation conducted by Amazon following the newspaper article.

Committee members asked Amazon to provide evidence to support its denial, including a report from the investigation that Mr. Bezos referred to. In meetings with congressional staff and written testimony, Amazon or its attorneys declined to provide the investigation report and other documents, according to the letter and people familiar with the matter. Instead, the letter says, Amazon representatives have made widespread denials without supporting evidence.

In October, committee members sent a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Gacy urging the company to present ‘evidence of denial’ Surrounds its own brand business practices. Lawyers representing Amazon met with legal counsel for the commission after the letter but did not provide the required evidence, saying that Amazon’s investigation was confidential information between the attorney and client, according to people familiar with the matter.

The letter said Amazon “has refused to deliver business documents or communications that would either support its claims or correct the record.” “It appears that it did so to conceal the truth about its use of third-party seller data to profit from its private label business and its preference for private-branded products in search results – subjects of the Commission’s investigation.”

The letter was signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D.E., New York), Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cislin (D.E., RI) and committee members represented Ken Buck (R., Colorado), Matt Gates (R. Florida) and Pramila Jayapal (R. Florida). D, Washington).

write to Dana Mattioli at [email protected]

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