U.S. House panel refers Amazon to Justice Department amid competition probe

WASHINGTON, March 9 (Reuters) - Five members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee have asked the U.S. Department Of Justice (DOJ) to investigate Amazon.com Inc for "potentially criminal conduct" by the company and some of its senior executives.

In a letter to the Attorney General of the United States, the bipartisan group of lawmakers said Amazon had engaged in a "pattern and practice of misleading conduct that suggests" 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 spokesperson 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."

A DOJ spokesperson said the department has received the letter and will review it.

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

That letter had come days after a Reuters investigation 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. read more

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 U.S. attorney general, the U.S. lawmakers cited stories from various media outlets including Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and Politico about the American e-commerce giant's business practices.

They added that Amazon had declined several 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 favor Amazon's own products, as well as copying other sellers' goods – and that at least two senior company executives had reviewed it.

The latest letter from U.S. lawmakers cited the Reuters story, and released a letter from Amazon dated Nov. 1 in which it told five committee members that the company was "looking into the allegations in the Reuters article," adding that "doing so will take time."

Amazon also told the U.S. panel that "creating private brands that are similar or even identical to existing brands is a common retail practice."

Reporting by Aditya Kalra in New Delhi, Steve Stecklow in London, Susan Heavey and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Nick Zieminski

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