House refers Amazon for investigation by US Department of Justice

Panel has referred retailer to law enforcement over 'potentially criminal conduct' amid competition

Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos speaks via video at a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law on Capitol Hill in Washington. Reuters
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Five members of the US House Judiciary Committee have asked the US Department of Justice to investigate Amazon for “potentially criminal conduct” allegedly perpetrated by the company and some of its senior executives.

In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, the bipartisan group said Amazon had engaged in a “pattern and practice of misleading conduct that suggests” and that it was acting with an improper purpose to influence or obstruct the panel's investigation into competition in digital markets.

“We have no choice but to refer this matter to the Department of Justice to investigate whether Amazon and its executives obstructed Congress in violation of applicable federal law,” stated the letter dated March 9.

In response, an Amazon representative told Reuters in an emailed statement: “There's no factual basis for this, as demonstrated in the huge volume of information we've provided over several years of good faith cooperation with this investigation.”

The referral to the DOJ follows a previous warning from members of the committee in October 2021, in which Amazon's top executives, including founder Jeff Bezos, were accused of either misleading Congress or possibly lying about Amazon's business practices.

That letter came days after an investigation conducted by Reuters showed that Amazon had conducted a systematic campaign of copying products and rigging search results in India to boost sales of its own brands — practices Amazon has denied engaging in.

The members had at the time stated the Reuters story and recent articles in several other news outlets “directly contradicts the sworn testimony and representations of Amazon's top executives — including former CEO Jeffrey Bezos”.

Amazon at the time said the company and its executives “did not mislead the committee and we have denied and sought to correct the record on the inaccurate media articles in question”.

In Wednesday's letter to the US attorney general, the committee cited stories from various media outlets including Reuters, The Wall Street Journal and Politico about the American e-commerce company's business practices.

They added that Amazon had declined opportunities to demonstrate with evidence that it had made accurate and complete representations to the panel during its investigation.

The Reuters investigation in October, which was based on a review of thousands of internal Amazon documents, showed that, at least in India, Amazon had a formal, clandestine policy of manipulating search results to favour Amazon's own products, as well as copying other sellers' goods — and that at least two senior company executives had reviewed it.

Amazon also told the US panel that “creating private brands that are similar or even identical with existing brands is a common retail practice”.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: March 09, 2022, 4:37 PM