Indians among six indicted in Amazon bribery case in US
September 20, 2020 04:22 AM
US prosecutors on Friday said six people, including an Indian national and an Indian-American, have been indicted on criminal charges for bribing Amazon workers to restock blocked goods or help beat competitors in its online marketplace
Those charged in the case served as consultants for third-party sellers on Amazon Marketplace, paying employees and contractors at the e-commerce giant for favours or intelligence in a scheme dating back to at least 2017, according to the Department of Justice.
The accused have been named as Nishad Kunju, 31, from Hyderabad, Rohit Kadimisetty, 27, from California, three from New York -- Ephraim Rosenburg, 45, Joseph Nilsen, 31, and Kristen Leccese -- and Hadis Nuhanoviv, 30, from Georgia.
"Realizing they could not compete on a level playing field, the subjects turned to bribery and fraud in order to gain the upper hand," FBI Seattle bureau special agent in charge Raymond Duda said in a release. "What's equally concerning, not only did they attempt to increase sales of their own products, but sought to damage and discredit their competitors."
Advantages gained by paying bribes included extra shelf space in distribution centers; inside data they could use against rivals; and reinstatement of accounts blocked or suspended for rule breaking, according to the indictment.
Reinstated products included dietary supplements suspended because of safety complaints; household electronics that had been flagged as flammable, and consumer goods removed for intellectual-property violations, prosecutors said.
"Corrupted" employees at Amazon did things such as manually reinstate product listings and approve baseless merchant appeals, according to the indictment.
Fraudulently reinstated products and merchants went on to generate more than $100 million in sales in total revenue, prosecutors said.
"Amazon has systems in place to detect suspicious behavior by sellers or employees, and teams in place to investigate and stop prohibited activity," the e-commerce giant said in reply to an AFP inquiry.
"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 accused consultants represented sellers of a wide range of goods, and three of the consultants were said to have been also offering items for sale at Amazon Marketplace.
The three were identified as Hadis Nuhanovic of Georgia and Joseph Nilsen and Kristen Leccese of New York, New York.
In the scheme, bribes were paid to at least 10 different people, including Amazon contractor Nishad Kunju of Hyderabad, India, prosecutors said.
Kunju went on to become an outside consultant himself, paying bribes to former colleagues still working for Seattle-based Amazon, according to the indictment.
Also charged in the indictment are Ephraim Rosenburg of New York and Rohit Kadimisetty of southern California.
The defendants are to appear in federal court in Seattle on October 15 to face conspiracy charges.
"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,” said US Attorney Brian Moran.