6 outside consultants have been indicted for bribing Amazon employees more than $100,000 to help sellers gain an advantage over competitors worth over $100 million (AMZN)

FILE PHOTO: Amazon workers perform their jobs inside of an Amazon fulfillment center on Cyber Monday in Robbinsville, New Jersey, U.S., December 2, 2019.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File PhotoReuters

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The Grand Jury in the Western District of Washington has indicted six marketplace consultants over a scheme to bribe Amazon employees in exchange for gaining an unfair advantage in the company's online marketplace.

The Justice Department announced on Friday that the six people, who served as consultants for third-party sellers on Amazon, allegedly paid over $100,000 to at least 10 different Amazon employees and contractors since at least 2017. The scheme involved getting suspended products reinstated and gaining access to confidential data about competitors, among other things, resulting in an unfair advantage worth over $100 million, according to the announcement.

"Realizing they could not compete on a level playing field, the subjects turned to bribery and fraud in order to gain the upper hand," Raymond Duda, FBI Seattle's Special agent in charge, said in a statement.

The indictment is the latest case of suspected data leaks and bribes involving Amazon employees. In January, Amazon said it fired multiple employees for leaking customer data to external parties. A similar incident was reported in 2018 by the Wall Street Journal, saying some Amazon employees sold customer data to third-party sellers and brokers, who then used the data to get better reviews and improve their sales.

In Friday's indictment, the Justice Department said the corrupt employees allegedly helped reinstate certain products that had been suspended due to safety concerns, including dietary supplements with health risks and electronic devices that were potentially flammable. They also reactivated seller accounts that had been suspended for manipulating reviews or engaging in illegal contact with customers, it said. Other allegations include attacking competitors with fake reviews and sharing confidential information on Amazon's search algorithm.

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said: "We work hard to build a great experience for our customers and sellers, and bad actors like those in this case detract from the flourishing community of honest entrepreneurs that make up the vast majority of our sellers."

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SEE ALSO: Amazon told a congressional antitrust committee in a follow-up letter that more than 90% of its product listings in almost all categories come from third-party sellers

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