Amazon’s Bezos Faces Call to Testify Before House Panel

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(Bloomberg) -- Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is being called to testify by a House antitrust panel about his company’s treatment of third-party merchants on its site.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating competition in the tech sector, said in a letter to Bezos Friday that he expects the CEO to testify, and threatened to issue a subpoena if he doesn’t comply.

The demand follows a Wall Street Journal report that the e-commerce giant used data from third-party sellers on its site to develop competing products.

At issue are statements that an Amazon executive made to the panel while under oath last year.

If the story “is accurate, then statements Amazon made to the Committee about the company’s business practices appear to be misleading, and possibly criminally false or perjurious,” said the letter, which was signed by Representative Jerrold Nadler, David Cicilline, the Democratic chairman of the antitrust subcommittee, and Jim Sensenbrenner, the competition panel’s top Republican, among other subcommittee members.

Nadler said April 23 that Amazon may have misled Congress when a company lawyer, Nate Sutton, testified last year that the online retailer doesn’t use data it collects on sales to favor its own products over third-party sellers.

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but has previously said that it hadn’t been “intentionally misleading” in its congressional testimony. The committee’s letter points to a crime of making false statements “knowingly and willfully.”Sutton had testified that the company doesn’t use data it collects on sales to favor its own products over third-party sellers. Cicilline has previously called Sutton’s answers “evasive, incomplete, or misleading.”

Amazon has faced accusations of anticompetitive conduct from many corners. One seller, in a 62-page letter to federal lawmakers, has accused the company of raising prices by forcing the third-party merchants on its site into using its expensive logistics service, Bloomberg has reported.

Independent merchants have long complained that the company’s AmazonBasics line copies popular products that they sell. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has investigated the company’s practices and interviewed third-party sellers to see if it’s using its market power to hurt competition, Bloomberg reported in September.

In other cases, some outside sellers, who are crucial to Amazon’s business, have complained that the company makes their goods less visible if they post lower prices on other sites, Bloomberg has also reported, essentially forcing the merchants to raise prices elsewhere because of the importance of Amazon to their business.

The company has said it represents too little of world retail sales to have a monopolists’ power and what they engage in is competition that lowers prices for consumers.

The committee’s renewed push for testimony by Bezos comes as it said that Amazon’s responses to information requests from the committee had left “significant gaps.” Cicilline’s committee is looking to write a report on competition in the tech sector with recommendations for legal fixes, but the chairman has said he wants to hear testimony from technology chief executives before issuing the final report.

“Although we expect that you will testify on a voluntary basis, we reserve the right to resort to compulsory process if necessary,” the letter said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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