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Amazon investigating its lawyers for allegedly bribing Indian government officials

Amazon has commenced a probe into the activities of its legal representatives in India. This probe stems from a whistleblower report alleging that money paid by Amazon for legal expenses was diverted into bribery by one or more of its legal representatives.

Smartphone with Amazon logo is seen in front of displayed Indian flag in this illustration

Courtesy: Dado Ruvic via Reuters

The US-based e-commerce platform has stated that it will show “zero tolerance” in investigating bribery-related allegations against some of its legal representatives in India. The Morning Context broke the news first, citing anonymous sources within the company and Amazon’s in-house legal workforce. Its senior corporate lawyer, Rahul Sundaram, has apparently been sent on leave in connection with this matter.

According to reports, the majority of American companies take whistleblower allegations seriously since they violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or FCPA. The FCPA is a US law that prohibits companies and individuals from offering bribes to foreign government officials in order to obtain or preserve the business. Compliance with the FCPA is also part of the corporate governance guidelines that govern all public firms.

An insider whistleblower within Amazon raised concerns about bribery in the Indian operations, inviting an internal probe. The whistleblower’s complaint, according to the Morning Context report, highlighted the participation of Vikas Chopra, an independent advocate in New Delhi who works for Amazon as an outside counsel for hire, and that legal fees offered to Chopra were allegedly channeled towards bribing government officials. Chopra’s annual billings surpassed Rs 20 crore, as per the report.

“We have zero tolerance for corruption. We take allegations of improper actions seriously, investigate them fully, and take appropriate action. We are not commenting on specific allegations or the status of any investigation at this time,” an Amazon spokesperson responded, without acknowledging or dismissing the allegations.

These bribery allegations surface as Amazon is being investigated by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for suspected anti-competitive behavior, predatory pricing, and favoritism of some sellers.

Amazon is also involved in a legal dispute with Kishore Biyani’s Future Group. Amazon has filed a lawsuit against Future Group and Reliance Retail Ventures Ltd over a $24.713 billion acquisition, dragging Future Group to the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC). It claims that Future breached the contract by signing into the agreement with rival Reliance.

Amazon’s new CEO, Andy Jassy, is eyeing India for expansion even though roadblocks emerge in what is arguably the internet retailer’s most crucial region for expansion. The company seeks to compete with Walmart Inc.-backed Flipkart, as well as billionaire businessman Mukesh Ambani’s entrance into online retail with JioMart among other platforms.

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