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Amazon Accused of Manipulating Prices by D.C. Attorney General

The District of Columbia sued Amazon on Tuesday, accusing it of artificially raising prices for products in its ubiquitous online marketplace and around the web by abusing its monopoly power, a sign that regulators in the United States are increasingly turning their attention to the company’s dominance across the economy.

In the lawsuit, the D.C. government said that Amazon had effectively prohibited merchants that use its platform from charging lower prices for the same products elsewhere online. That, in turn, raised prices for those products not just on Amazon’s website but in other marketplaces as well, it said.

“Amazon has used its dominant position in the online retail market to win at all costs,” said Karl Racine, the attorney general for the District of Columbia. “It maximizes its profits at the expense of third-party sellers and consumers, while harming competition, stifling innovation, and illegally tilting the playing field in its favor.”

Jodi Seth, a spokeswoman for Amazon, said in a statement that Mr. Racine “has it exactly backwards — sellers set their own prices for the products they offer in our store.” She added that Amazon reserved the right “not to highlight offers to customers that are not priced competitively.”

others raise their prices elsewhere or choose to list solely on Amazon, the largest e-commerce site in the country, to avoid losing their listings. The complaint said “Walmart routinely fields requests from merchants to raise prices on Walmart’s online retail sales platform because the merchants worry that a lower price on Walmart will jeopardize their status on Amazon.”

Absent the policing, sellers “would be able to sell their products on their own or other online retail sales platforms for less than they sell them on Amazon’s platform,” it said.

“Most favored nation” contracts are common across industries, including the cable industry with media business partners. Mr. Racine’s office will have to prove how the price agreements harmed other sellers and were anticompetitive.

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Amazon Pauses Construction After Seventh Noose Is Found at Site

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Amazon said it had temporarily stopped construction of a new fulfillment center in Windsor, Conn., after seven ropes that appeared to be nooses were found on the site since April 27.

The Windsor Police Department said it was investigating what it called “potential hate crime incidents” with the Connecticut State Police and the F.B.I.

Amazon said it had shut down construction on the site until at least Monday while new security measures were being put in place. It said a $100,000 reward had been offered; Amazon said that it had contributed $50,000 and that construction companies and subcontractors working on the site had contributed the other $50,000.

“We continue to be deeply disturbed by the incidents at this construction site,” Brad Griggs, an Amazon representative, said at a news conference on Thursday with Black elected officials and members of the N.A.A.C.P. “Hate, racism and discrimination have no place in our society and certainly are not tolerated in any Amazon workplace.”

in Windsor, a town of about 28,000 people north of Hartford.

“We want to see someone apprehended,” Nuchette Black-Burke, a member of the Windsor Town Council, said at the news conference. “If we need to get a sit-in, a protest, whatever we need to do, we’re going to continue to do it until the folks here realize it’s not acceptable. It’s a hate crime.”

Construction Dive, a news site focused on the construction and building industry, which said that 65 percent of the readers it surveyed last year had witnessed racist incidents on job sites. Those incidents included nooses, graffiti and slurs. Seventy-seven percent of readers said that nothing had been done to address the incidents.

The F.B.I. said it was lending resources and support to the Windsor police.

“The implications of a hanging noose anywhere are unacceptable and will always generate the appropriate investigative response,” David Sundberg, the special agent in charge of the New Haven field office, said in a statement.

Mr. Esdaile said that workers on the site had come from Lynchburg, Va., as well as Florida, Georgia, Texas and other parts of the South. “We are concerned that individuals from this community are not really working on this particular site, as promised,” he said.

Carlos Best, an ironworker who was at the news conference, said he had seen Confederate flags on hats and on the backs of cars and had heard “racial remarks” on the construction site. He said it was not the only job site where he had seen and heard such things, but “it’s kept quiet because some guys just want to get a paycheck and go home.”

“But, personally, on this job here, I’ve seen a lot of racism,” Mr. Best said. “I would like to say to the person that’s doing it: Could you please stop? Stop what you’re doing and grow a conscience and think about other people.”

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Amazon Indefinitely Extends Moratorium on Facial Recognition Software by Police

Amazon said Tuesday that it would indefinitely prohibit police departments from using its facial recognition tool, extending a moratorium the company announced last year during nationwide protests over racism and biased policing.

The tool has faced scrutiny from lawmakers and some employees inside Amazon who said they were worried that it led to unfair treatment of African-Americans. Amazon has repeatedly defended the accuracy of its algorithms.

When Amazon announced the pause in June, it did not cite a specific reason for the change. The company said it hoped a year was enough time for Congress to create legislation regulating the ethical use of facial recognition technology. Congress has not banned the technology, or issued any significant regulations on it, but some cities have.

The primary suppliers of facial recognition tools to police departments have not been tech giants like Amazon, but smaller outfits that are not household names.

said in a statement posted on Twitter.

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MGM Looks to Amazon as the Hollywood Studio Tries to Find a Buyer

Streaming has become fiercely competitive, with Disney+ coming on strong and HBO Max, Apple TV+ and Paramount+ determined to make inroads. That has pushed the original streaming disrupters — Netflix and Amazon Prime Video — to lean harder on broad-appeal movies to keep growing, particularly overseas.

The 58-year-old James Bond franchise is a Hollywood crown jewel that has generated tens of billions of dollars in ticket sales, home entertainment revenue, video games and marketing partnerships. But 007 has been both an enticement and a deterrent to prospective MGM bidders.

That is because MGM owns only 50 percent of the spy franchise. The balance is held by Barbara Broccoli and her brother, Michael G. Wilson. Through their company, Eon, which stands for Everything or Nothing, the siblings also have ironclad creative control, approving every line of dialogue, casting decision, stunt sequence, TV ad, poster and billboard. Bond has enormous untapped value, with television offshoots as one potential bonanza. But Ms. Broccoli and Mr. Wilson, worried about adulterating the brand, have blocked spinoff efforts in the past: Bond belongs on big screens, not small ones.

“If we get the wrong partners, there are liable to be conflicts,” Mr. Wilson said in a 2015 interview.

“No Time to Die,” the 25th installment in the Bond series, cost about $250 million to make and is scheduled for pandemic-delayed release in theaters on Oct. 8. (The previous film, “Spectre,” took in about $900 million worldwide in 2015.) The role of James Bond is expected to be recast after “No Time to Die,” as Daniel Craig leaves the role after 15 years.

Amazon’s entertainment strategy has evolved as streaming services have proliferated. Indie films like “Manchester by the Sea” and unconventional shows like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Transparent” gave Amazon a foothold in Hollywood; domination will require a steady supply of mainstream hits.

The problem: Amazon Studios has limited bandwidth, most of which is tied up with television series — including a coming “Lord of the Rings” adaptation that is believed to be the most expensive show ever made, with a one-season budget of $465 million. To stock its shelves with big movies, Amazon has been turning to outside suppliers. It paid $125 million for the rights to “Coming 2 America” and $80 million for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” In July, Amazon will release “The Tomorrow War,” a science-fiction spectacle it bought for $200 million.

Nicole Sperling contributed reporting.

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The Gateses’ Public Split Spotlights a Secretive Fortune

The fortune of Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates exceeds the size of Morocco’s annual economy, combines the value of Ford, Twitter and Marriott International and is triple the endowment of Harvard. While few know how their wealth will be divided in the divorce, one thing is clear: breaking it up can’t be easy.

Mr. Gates built one of the great fortunes in human history when he founded Microsoft in 1975 with Paul Allen. The Gateses’ net worth is estimated to be more than $124 billion, and includes assets as varied as trophy real estate, public company stocks and rare artifacts.

There’s a big stake in the luxury Four Seasons hotel chain. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and ranch land, including Buffalo Bill’s historic Wyoming ranch. There are billions of dollars’ worth of shares in companies like AutoNation and Waste Management. There’s a beachfront mansion in Southern California. And one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.

“The amount of money and the diversity of assets that are involved in this divorce boggles the imagination,” said David Aronson, a lawyer who has represented wealthy clients in divorce cases. “There have rarely been cases that are even close to this in size.”

2019 divorce between the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his now ex-wife, the novelist and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, was bigger. Mr. Bezos had an estimated fortune of $137 billion, though mostly in Amazon stock, and Ms. Scott kept 4 percent of Amazon’s shares, worth $36 billion at the time.

But Mr. Gates has for decades been diversifying his holdings; he owns just 1.3 percent of Microsoft. Instead, his stock portfolio includes stakes in dozens of publicly traded companies. He is the largest private owner of farmland in the country, according to The Land Report. In addition to the Four Seasons, he has stakes in other luxury hotels and a company that caters to private jet owners. His real estate portfolio includes one of the largest houses in the country and several equestrian facilities. He owns stakes in a clean energy investment fund and a nuclear energy start-up.

Forbes, or $146 billion, according to the research firm Wealth-X. Including the Gates Foundation’s endowment and the Gates personal fortune, Cascade most likely oversees assets that put it on par or beyond some of the world’s biggest hedge funds in size.

Mr. Larson operates Cascade with an obsessive level of secrecy, going to great lengths to cloak the firm’s transactions so that they can’t easily be traced back to the Gateses. In a 1999 interview with Fortune magazine, Mr. Larson said he chose the name “Cascade” because it was a generic-sounding name in the Pacific Northwest.

that questions about the future of the Gates Foundation immediately arose following news of the divorce. The foundation directs billions to 135 countries to help fight poverty and disease. As of 2019, it had given away nearly $55 billion. (In 2006, Mr. Buffett pledged $31 billion of his fortune to the Gates Foundation, greatly increasing its grant making.)

Since he stepped down from day-to-day operations at Microsoft in 2008, Mr. Gates has devoted much of his time to the foundation. He also runs Gates Ventures, a firm that invests in companies working on climate change and other issues. Over the decades, Mr. Gates shed the image of a ruthless tech executive battling the United States government on antitrust to be viewed as a global do-gooder. And he appears to be keenly aware of the stark contrast between the scale of his wealth and his role as a philanthropist. “I’ve been disproportionately rewarded for the work I’ve done — while many others who work just as hard struggle to get by,” he acknowledged in a year-end blog post from 2019.

told The New York Times last year. “There’s just none.”

Matthew Goldstein contributed reporting.

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Amazon’s $300 Million European Tax Charge Is Rejected by E.U. Court

Amazon on Wednesday won an appeal against European Union efforts to force the company to pay more taxes in the region, illustrating how American tech giants are turning to the courts to beat back tougher oversight.

The General Court of the European Union struck down a 2017 decision by European regulators that ordered Amazon to pay $300 million to Luxembourg, home of the company’s European headquarters and where regulators said the company received unfair tax treatment. The court said regulators did not sufficiently prove that Amazon had violated a law meant to prevent companies from receiving special tax benefits from European governments.

The decision, which comes as European Union and American officials attempt to reach a global tax agreement that could result in higher levies against tech companies, undercuts an effort by Margrethe Vestager, an executive vice president at the European Commission, who issued the Amazon penalty and has led efforts to force big tech firms to pay more in taxes. The companies have been criticized for using complex corporate structures to take advantage of low-tax countries like Luxembourg and Ireland. In 2020, Amazon earned 44 billion euros in Europe, but reported paying no taxes in Luxembourg.

Tech companies are using the courts to fight European regulators trying to rein in the industry’s power. Last year, Apple won an appeal against Ms. Vestager to annul a decision to repay about $14.9 billion in taxes to Ireland, where the company has a European headquarters. That case is now before the European Union’s highest court.

Apple and Amazon for violating antitrust laws.

On Wednesday, Amazon cheered the decision by the Luxembourg-based court.

“We welcome the court’s decision, which is in line with our longstanding position that we followed all applicable laws and that Amazon received no special treatment,” Conor Sweeney, a company spokesman, said in a statement.

Ms. Vestager said the European Commission would study the Amazon ruling before deciding whether to appeal.

“All companies should pay their fair share of tax,” Ms. Vestager said in a statement. “Tax advantages given only to selected multinational companies harm fair competition in the E.U.”

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L Brands Will Spin Off Victoria’s Secret

L Brands has decided to spin off Victoria’s Secret rather than sell it, DealBook is first to report. The company said last year it was considering separating Victoria’s Secret from the rest of its business, and we previously reported that it was testing private equity’s interest. Ultimately, sources say, L Brands has decided to split itself into two independent, publicly listed companies: Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. The deal is expected to close in August.

Bids didn’t match what Victoria’s Secret expects to get in a spinoff. DealBook hears that L Brands received several bids north of $3 billion. It turned them down, because it expects to be valued somewhere between $5 billion and $7 billion in a spinoff to L Brands shareholders. Analysts at Citi and JPMorgan recently valued Victoria’s Secret as a stand-alone company at $5 billion.

The pandemic torpedoed a sale last year for much less. That agreement, announced in February 2020 with the investment firm Sycamore Partners, valued Victoria’s Secret at $1.1 billion. Apart from a pandemic that was about to upend the retail industry, Victoria’s Secret was dealing with a series of challenges: a brand that had fallen out of touch, accusations of misogyny and sexual harassment in the workplace and revelations about the ties between Les Wexner, the company’s founder and former chairman, and Jeffrey Epstein. (Wexner stepped down as C.E.O. last year and said in March that he and his wife are not running for re-election on the company’s board.)

  • As the pandemic shuttered stores and battered sales, Sycamore sued L Brands to get out of the deal, and L Brands countersued to enforce it, heralding a spate of similar battles between buyers and sellers. Eventually, in May 2020, the sides agreed to call off the deal.

Dick’s Sporting Goods, Michaels and others were able to accelerate digital transformations that may have otherwise taken years. Direct sales at Victoria’s Secret in North America rose to 44 percent of the total last year, from 25 percent the year before. It’s unclear whether pandemic shopping trends will stick, and “it would be reasonable to expect some reversion,” Stuart Burgdoerfer, the L Brands C.F.O., said at a March event. “But I also think that people have very much enjoyed some of the benefits that were forced on us or triggered through the pandemic.”

bump in inflation and that factory-gate prices in China rose more than expected last month. April’s Consumer Price Index data is set to be released today, and is expected to show a sharp rise from a pandemic-depressed level last year.

China’s birthrate slows again. The country’s population is growing at its slowest pace in decades, posing grave social and economic risks to the world’s second-largest economy. While the U.S. also reported a drastic slowdown in population expansion, China “is growing old without first having grown rich,” The Times’s Sui-Lee Wee writes.

President Biden defends federal unemployment benefits. He rejected claims that $300-a-week supplemental payments are deterring unemployed Americans from seeking work, but he ordered the Labor Department to help reinstate work search requirements. Separately, Chipotle said it was raising wages, to an average of $15 an hour, to attract workers.

The Colonial Pipeline is expected to “substantially” reopen within days. The pipeline, which supplies nearly half of the East Coast’s fuel, is expected to restore most services by the weekend after a ransomware attack. U.S. authorities formally blamed a hacker group and pledged to “disrupt and prosecute” the perpetrators.

12- to 15-year-olds in the U.S., potentially helping reopen schools and other parts of the economy more quickly. But while cases are declining worldwide, they are surging in countries that lack vaccines. And the W.H.O. labeled a virus variant spreading fast in India as “of concern.”

Amazon sold $18.5 billion worth of bonds yesterday, joining other corporate giants taking advantage of ultralow interest rates to raise money because … well, why not? The e-commerce titan sold some of its debt at a record-low interest rate for a corporate issuer — barely above what the U.S. government pays.

About $1 billion worth of two-year bonds has a yield just 0.1 percentage points above the equivalent in Treasuries. That’s a huge vote of confidence in Amazon, which has emerged as a winner during the pandemic. The company also set a record for yields on a 20-year bond, besting Alphabet. Over all, investors placed $50 billion worth of orders, underscoring enthusiasm for debt that yields next to nothing.

It raised another $1 billion in the form of a sustainability bond, which is meant to finance investments in environmentally minded projects like zero-carbon infrastructure and cleaner transportation. Amazon is the latest company to sell bonds aimed at E.S.G. investors, a market that reached $270 billion last year and could double this year.


a bold bet by the beleaguered retailer that shoppers and workers will flood back there after the pandemic.

offshore tax evasion. “The tax gap is a massive problem, especially the part driven by ultrarich individuals and corporations stashing income overseas,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, the subcommittee chair, told DealBook. That gap “could be as much as a trillion dollars,” he said. “That’s trillion with a ‘T.’” This money would help fund President Biden’s spending plans, which also run into the trillions.

It’s difficult to quantify just how much money goes uncollected each year, officials say. Corporate tax collections in the U.S. are “at historic lows and well below what other countries collect,” according to a recent Treasury report. U.S. multinational companies can be taxed at a 50 percent discount compared with their domestic peers, an incentive to shift profits abroad. “Bermuda, a country of merely 64,000 people, shows 10 percent of all reported U.S. multinational foreign profit,” the report explained.

“The Biden administration is serious about stopping tax cheats and so are we,” Whitehouse said. The hearing, which features I.R.S. and Treasury officials, will discuss legislation to end corporate tax breaks that incentivize profit shifting, a proposed $80 billion investment in I.R.S. enforcement, a new approach to international tax diplomacy and proposed changes to the tax code.

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