New Delhi: In a series of letters to Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has demanded a CBI inquiry into a revelation made by a news portal, titled ‘Amazon whistleblower alleges India lawyers bribed government officials’.
The CAIT wants the Narendra Modi government to suspend Amazon’s e-retail business, pending investigation. It is also moving a representation to Gary Genseter, chairman of the US Securities & Exchange Commission, the repository body of the country’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and to Amazon’s corporate governance committee, demanding a fair and independent probe.
The traders’ body has been taking on e-retail giants Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart for “indulging in all kinds of unethical business practices” in order to take over India’s traditional retail market. And now, it says the fresh allegations are a blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s crackdown on corruption.
“Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has always been categorical about removing rampant corruption at all levels within the government. But if the story is true then it will be a big setback to the initiative of Hon’ble PM that right under the nose of the government, the officials are defending or giving leverage to Amazon for its wrong deeds in consideration of bribes. Therefore, propriety demands an immediate CBI probe,” CAIT secretary general Praveen Khandelwal stated.
News portal The Morning Context reported Monday about an in-house inquiry by Amazon Inc. against its senior corporate counsel for his alleged involvement in the “funnelling of legal fees” paid as bribes to government officials. Amazon has sent the in-house counsel on leave, pending investigation.
The probe began after a whistleblower alleged that legal fees paid to Amazon’s external counsel based in Delhi were spent to bribe government officials. The in-house counsel is alleged to have been in collusion with the external counsel. Another lawyer who worked with a prominent corporate law firm in Noida is also under the lens; the report stated the company asked him to quit after the Amazon probe began.
The names of the lawyers and the law firm are being withheld since the investigation is on and ThePrint has been unable to independently verify the allegations.
Amazon responded to ThePrint’s query through email, stating the company has “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,” a spokesperson said.
Repeated phone calls and text messages to the in-house counsel did not elicit a reply, nor did phone calls to the external counsel and an email to the Noida firm.
ThePrint also spoke to a couple of other lawyers who have represented Amazon in multiple judicial fora. They claimed to have no knowledge about the probe, and said they were personally not even aware of the external counsel named in The Morning Context report, according to which the online retail giant is one of the largest clients of the Delhi-based external counsel.
CAIT’s call for action
The CAIT’s national president B.C. Bhartia and secretary general Praveen Khandelwal demanded that the names of those officials who are involved in the alleged scam should be made public, and “exemplary action” must be taken against them.
In his demand, Khandelwal referred to media reports on the alleged misuse of legal funds by Amazon and called it a matter of grave concern. He stated the retail online giant and its subsidiaries spent a whopping amount on legal professional fees, which was misused “to bribe and manipulate Indian government officials”.
“It is most astonishing that the story reveals a sensational fact that Amazon lawyers have bribed government officials for their gains and at a time when CBI and ED are holding an investigation against Amazon and Flipkart,” Khandelwal said.
The story has certainly cast a shadow on the government officials and therefore needs an immediate CBI investigation, he said, adding: “Pending such investigation, Amazon should be directed to suspend their e-commerce portal and other related activities.”
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)