Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive 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 Friday in a letter to Bezos that he expects the CEO to testify, and he threatened to issue a subpoena if Bezos 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 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 Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee; David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chairman of the Judiciary antitrust subcommittee; Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the antitrust panel’s top Republican; and 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 those offered by third-party sellers. Cicilline has previously called Sutton’s answers “evasive, incomplete, or misleading.”
Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but it has previously said 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.”
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.
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 the e-commerce giant is using its market power to hurt competition.
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, essentially forcing the merchants to raise prices elsewhere because of the importance of Amazon to their business.
The company has said that its world retail sales are too small for it to hold monopoly power and that what it engages in is competition that lowers prices for consumers.
The committee has previously complained of “significant gaps” in Amazon’s responses to its requests for information. 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 CEOs 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 to Bezos said.