By MARCY GORDON – AP Business Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers followed up on Wednesday by threatening to launch a criminal investigation into Amazon, asking the Justice Department to investigate whether the tech giant and senior executives obstructed Congress or broke other federal laws to testify to its competitive practices .
The House Judiciary Committee escalated the bipartisan fight against the world’s largest online retailer with a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who referred the case to a criminal investigation.
Amazon engaged in deceptive behavior that appeared to be aimed at “interfering with, impeding or obstructing” the 2019-20 Antitrust Subcommittee investigation into Big Tech’s dominance, the letter said.
As an example, it cited the testimony of a senior Amazon official who claimed that the company does not use the data it collects about third-party retailers on its platform to compete with them, and has not previously featured its own products in customer search results lists those of third parties. These claims have been refuted by credible news reports, the letter said.
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News reports have detailed Amazon’s alleged practice of undercutting the companies that sell on its platform by making “fake” or very similar products and boosting their presence on the site.
“Amazon has attempted to clean up the inaccurate statements through ever-changing explanations of its internal policies and denials of the investigative reports,” lawmakers said. “The committee uncovered evidence from former Amazon employees and past and current sellers that supported the reports’ claims.”
“After being caught in a lie and repeated misrepresentations, Amazon blocked the committee’s efforts to uncover the truth,” the letter reads. It was signed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, DN.Y., and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Antitrust Subcommittee.
The Seattle-based company has previously denied that its executives misled the panel in their testimony.
In a statement Wednesday, Amazon said “there is no factual basis” for the committee’s actions, “as evidenced by the vast body of information we have provided in good faith over several years in this investigation.”
Amazon’s third-party marketplace, where independent merchants list millions of their products on the site, is a big part of the company’s business. It has about 2 million sellers, and Amazon has said that more than half of the goods sold on Amazon.com come from third-party sellers. It also makes money by charging third-party providers, bringing in tens of billions of dollars in revenue.
In a May 2020 letter to Amazon founder and then-CEO Jeff Bezos, the antitrust committee threatened a subpoena if Bezos failed to appear before the panel voluntarily.
The Wall Street Journal reported at the time that Amazon was using sensitive, confidential information about its marketplace sellers, their products, and their transactions to develop its own competing products. An Amazon executive denied such a practice in statements at a subcommittee hearing in July 2019, saying the company has a formal policy against it.
Amazon says it investigates any allegations of violations of its policies and will take appropriate action if warranted.
Bezos testified on the issue in an appearance at a July 2020 hearing into Big Tech’s alleged monopolistic practices alongside Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Addressing allegations that Amazon used data generated by independent sellers on its platform to compete against them, Bezos said it would be “unacceptable” if those claims turned out to be true.
Andy Jassy took over the top spot from Bezos last July. Bezos became CEO.
Some independent retailers who sell products on Amazon.com have complained about the company’s practices, such as contractual provisions designed to prevent sellers from offering their products at lower prices or better terms on other online platforms, including their own websites , to offer.
In its defense, Amazon has stated that sellers set their own prices for the products they list on its platform.
The District of Columbia sued Amazon in an antitrust case last year, accusing the company of anticompetitive practices in the treatment of sellers on its platform. The practices have raised prices for consumers and stifled innovation and choice in the online retail marketplace, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit alleges that Amazon fixed online retail prices through contractual provisions that prevent merchants selling their products on Amazon.com from offering them at lower prices or better terms on other online platforms, including their own websites. Amazon rejected the allegations.
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