- Consultants to Amazon Marketplace merchants allegedly paid over $100,000 in bribes to secure an unfair competitive advantage worth more than $100 million.
A former Amazon employee in India is among six people indicted for conspiring to pay over $100,000 in commercial bribes to Amazon employees and contractors, in exchange for an unfair competitive advantage on the Amazon Marketplace.
According to a DOJ press release, Nishad Kunju, 31, of Hyderabad, began an illegal arrangement with U.S.-based consultants as early as 2017. Others charged in case are Rohit Kadimisetty, 27, of Northridge, California; Ephraim Rosenberg, 45, of Brooklyn, New York; Kristen Leccese, 32, of New York City; Hadis Nuhanovic, 30, of Acworth, Georgia; and Joseph Nilsen, 31, of Brooklyn, New York.
They are charged with conspiracy to use a communication facility to commit commercial bribery, conspiracy to access a protected computer without authorization, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and wire fraud, according to the press release. The wire fraud charges carry a possible prison sentence of up to 20 years. The defendants will make their initial appearances in the U.S. District Court in Seattle on Oct. 15.
As the world moves increasingly to online commerce, we must ensure that the marketplace is not corrupted with unfair advantages obtained by bribes and kick‑backs,” U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran was quoted in the press release as saying. “The ultimate victim from this criminal conduct is the buying public who get inferior or even dangerous goods that should have been removed from the marketplace. I commend the investigators and cybersecurity experts who have worked to identify and indict those engaged in these illegal schemes.”
The defendants are accused of allegedly posing as consultants to so-called third-party (“3P”) sellers on the Amazon Marketplace. The press release, citing the indictment, said, since at least 2017, “the defendants have used bribery and fraud to benefit merchant accounts on the Amazon Marketplace.”
This has resulted in more than $100 million of competitive benefits to those accounts, harm to competitors, and harm to consumers. In the course of the conspiracy, the defendants paid bribes to at least ten different Amazon employees and contractors, including Kunju, who accepted bribes as a seller-support associate in Hyderabad, before becoming an outside consultant who recruited and paid bribes to his former colleagues.
Amazon told Ars Technicia that it has fired the workers who accepted bribes and that it assisted federal investigators in the case. “Amazon has systems in place to detect suspicious behavior by sellers or employees, and teams in place to investigate and stop prohibited activity,” he company said in a statement, according to news reports. “We are especially disappointed by the actions of this limited group of now former employees, and appreciate the collaboration and support from law enforcement to bring them and the bad actors they were entwined with to justice.”
The Verve reported that this case highlights Amazons “ongoing struggles with third-party sellers.” Amazon’s Marketplace was “under the spotlight this summer,” the report said, “as lawmakers questioned CEO Jeff Bezos during an antitrust hearing before the House Judiciary Committee about counterfeit concerns, and alleged anti-competitive behavior from the retailer itself.” The report noted that “Amazon has been accused of copying Marketplace products to create its own competing products, a claim the company has denied.”