By Nathalie Voit
E-commerce giant Amazon was referred to the Department of Justice by a bipartisan group of lawmakers over potential criminal obstruction of Congress, according to a letter sent to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on March 9.
The letter, written by the House Judiciary Committee, alleged Amazon attempted to obstruct or impede the Committee’s investigation into Amazon’s business practices throughout its 16-month probe of competition in digital markets.
The letter points explicitly to Amazon’s “ever-shifting” explanations of its third-party seller data policy, stating Amazon repeatedly made false and misleading claims to the Committee about its practices during House hearings.
“In its first appearance before the Committee during the investigation, Amazon lied through a senior executive’s sworn testimony that Amazon did not use any of the troves of data it had collected on its third-party sellers to compete with them. But credible investigative reporting showed otherwise,” the 24-page letter began.
The letter cited reports from The Wall Street Journal that Amazon has long asserted publicly and to Congress “that when it makes and sells its own products, it doesn’t use information it collects from the site’s individual third-party sellers.” However, “interviews with more than 20 former employees of Amazon’s private-label business and documents reviewed by [The Journal] reveal that employees did just that,” continued the letter, signed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY.), House Antitrust Subcommittee chair David Cicilline (D-RI.), and committee members Reps. Ken Buck (R-Co.), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). “The Committee’s investigation uncovered similar evidence from former Amazon employees, as well as current and former sellers.”
When pressed about those “repeated misrepresentations,” legislators said Amazon “stonewalled” Congress and refused to turn over evidence that would correct the record or corroborate its claims. “And it appears to have done so to conceal the truth about its use of third-party sellers’ data to advantage its private-label business and its preferencing of private-label products in search results—subjects of the Committee’s investigation,” according to the House Committee.
“As a result, 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,” said the letter’s signatories.
Amazon denied the allegations, claiming there was “no factual basis” for the investigation, “as demonstrated in the huge volume of information we’ve provided over several years of good faith cooperation with this investigation,” according to CNBC.
The referral is part of a broader investigation by Congress into the anti-competitive practices of Big Tech.