Amazon tells Indian court: Reuters story is no reason to resume antitrust probe

FILE PHOTO: A worker sorts delivery packages in a van outside an Amazon facility in Ahmedabad, India, March 17, 2021. Picture taken March 17, 2021. REUTERS/Amit Dave

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Inc told an Indian court on Thursday a Reuters special report into the e-commerce giant's business practices should not be considered as evidence, as India's competition watchdog sought to lift an injunction on an anti-trust probe.

The Reuters report showed the U.S. firm gave preferential treatment to a small group of sellers on its platform, sidestepping foreign investment rules meant to protect India's small retailers from being crushed by e-commerce giants.

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The Competition Commission of India (CCI) order of investigation into Amazon and Walmart's Flipkart in January 2020 followed a complaint from a trader group, but a court put it on hold in February last year after the companies argued there was no evidence they were harming competition.

Last month, in a hearing seeking to lift the injunction on the probe, CCI counsel read parts of the Reuters special report to a judge in Karnataka High Court, saying it corroborated what was said in the original complaint the watchdog received.

The CCI also submitted media clippings, including the Reuters story, as part of its submission to the court.

On Thursday, Amazon's counsel Gopal Subramanium told the court Amazon did not agree with Reuters' story and the CCI could not use it as evidence, as the article was published months after CCI ordered its investigation.

The CCI read "the Reuters article like gospel from top to bottom to say this merits investigation. Newspaper articles are treated as secondary hearsay, not even primary hearsay," Subramanium told the High Court in Karnataka.

"No court will take judicial notice of such reports," he added.

The CCI's counsel in the case, Additional Solicitor General of India Madhavi Goradia Divan, declined to comment on Subramanium's remarks.

The Reuters report, which was published in February and was based on internal company documents dated between 2012 and 2019, revealed that Amazon for years helped a small number of sellers prosper on its platform, giving them discounted fees and helping one cut special deals with big tech manufacturers.

In the Reuters special report, Amazon said it was confident that it was in compliance with Indian law, adding that it "does not give preferential treatment to any seller on its marketplace," and treats all sellers in a "fair, transparent, and non-discriminatory manner."

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Abhirup Roy; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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