Members of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Amazon on Monday warning that they will seek a criminal investigation into the company’s competition practices unless it corrects previous testimony by executives that lawmakers believe was misleading.
The letter to Amazon President and CEO Andy Jassy, signed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.) and leaders of the antitrust panel from both parties, accuses Amazon of misleading Congress and possibly even outright lying during sworn testimony and threatens to refer the case to the Justice Department for criminal investigation if the company does not “correct the record” by November 1.
The warning cites recent media reports describing Amazon allegedly working to eliminate competition with the businesses that sell on its platform by making its own “knock-offs” or similar products and boosting their presence on the site.
One of the reports referenced in the letter quotes a former Amazon employee as saying: “I used to pull sellers’ data to look at what the best products were when I was there.”
The letter to Jassy, who replaced founder Jeff Bezos as CEO in July, notes that “credible reporting” from several news outlets “directly contradicts the sworn testimony and representations of Amazon’s top executives – including former CEO Jeffrey Bezos.”
“At best, this reporting confirms that Amazon’s representatives misled the Committee. At worst, it demonstrates that they may have lied to Congress in possible violation of federal criminal law,” the letter said.
“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,” it adds.
The company rejected allegations that its executives had misled the panel, according to Reuters.
“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,” the company said in a statement. “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.”’
Amazon added that it investigates any allegations of violations of its policies and takes “appropriate action” when needed.
“In addition, we design our search experience to feature the items customers will want to purchase, regardless of whether they are offered by Amazon or one of our selling partners,” the statement said.
The letter comes after the House Judiciary Committee first began investigating competition in digital markets in 2019, including how Amazon uses seller data from its marketplace and whether it unfairly boosts its own products.
Bezos told the Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee last year in sworn testimony that the company does not allow its employees to use data on individual sellers for its own product lines. Amazon’s associate general counsel, Nate Sutton, similarly testified in 2019 that the company does not use seller data to create its own products or boost their products in search results.
Sutton claimed that the company’s algorithms are “optimized to predict what customers want to buy regardless of the seller.”
The lawmakers have given the company “a final opportunity” to provide evidence to back up its prior testimony and statements. The letter warns that “it is criminally illegal to knowingly and willfully make statements that are materially false, conceal a material fact, or otherwise provide false documentation in response to a congressional investigation.”