Amazon and Bezos land in hot water as US lawmakers accuse them of lying to Congress

By Monica Athnasious

Published Oct 18, 2021 at 02:05 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

Last week, an in-depth report by Reuters exposed swathes of documents that unveiled Amazon’s systematic tactic of making knock-off products and rigging search results in India—practices the shopping giant has denied engaging in. Now, five members belonging to the US House of Judiciary Committee wrote a letter addressed to the company’s CEO, Andy Jassy, on Sunday 17 October 2021. The letter by the lawmakers accuses Amazon’s top executives, including the company’s founder Jeff Bezos, of lying or, at the very least, misleading Congress on its business practices.

The letter goes even further to suggest its consideration of “a referral of this matter to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation is appropriate,” citing Reuters’ “credible reporting” that “directly contradicts the sworn testimony and representations of Amazon’s top executives—including former CEO Jeffrey Bezos.” The lawmaker’s letter, reviewed by Reuters, continued, “At best, this reporting confirms that Amazon’s representatives misled the Committee. At worst, it demonstrates that they have lied to Congress in possible violation of federal criminal law.”

Reuters’ report detailed thousands of internal Amazon documents that clearly showed the company is aware of what goes on behind the scenes, whereby knock-off products are created (through gathering data on individual sellers) and search engine results in India are shamelessly rigged so that its own products appear “in the first two or three… search results”—thereby boosting its production in the country. The scheme was allegedly reviewed by at least two of the company’s senior executives. The evidence cited and found by Reuters in this investigation contradicts the previous testimonies from the e-commerce giant.

In 2020, Bezos testified before the Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee stating that Amazon prohibits the gathering of data on other sellers for the company’s advantage. Another testimony came from Amazon’s associate general counsel Nate Sutton in a 2019 congressional hearing, where he denied the usage of data to create its own branded content and in response to valid questions about its ‘rigged’ algorithm stated, “The algorithms are optimised to predict what customers want to buy regardless of the seller.”

In response to the letter and accusations of allegedly lying, an Amazon spokesperson submitted a statement, “Amazon 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.” It continued, “As we have previously stated, we have an internal policy, which goes beyond that of any other retailer’s policy that we’re aware of, that prohibits the use of individual seller data to develop Amazon private label products. We investigate any allegations that this policy may have been violated and take appropriate action.”

The letter from the US Judiciary Committee offers CEO Jassy a “final opportunity” to present articles of evidence that verify Amazon’s testimonies while also requesting access to the documents unveiled in Reuters’ in-depth report. A sworn response must also be made by the CEO by 1 November 2021, “We strongly encourage you to make use of this opportunity to correct the record and provide the Committee with sworn, truthful and accurate responses to this request as we consider whether a referral of this matter to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation is appropriate,” the letter explains.

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