Report: chief under investigation by SEC

Friday, March 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating stock sales by chief executive Jeff Bezos just before a negative report on the company was released, The New York Times reported Friday.

Documents filed with regulators on Feb. 2 and Feb. 5 indicated that Bezos intended to sell 800,000 shares of Amazon stock worth roughly $12.2 million, the newspaper reported, citing a person familiar with the investigation.

A week earlier, Amazon executives received an advance copy of a research report compiled by Lehman Brothers that questioned the company's ability to continue operating through 2001.

The report also speculated that Amazon's deteriorating financial situation could subject it to a credit squeeze later this year.

Bill Curry, a spokesman for the Internet retailer, said Bezos had sold the stock in an effort to generate capital and diversify his holdings and that it had nothing to do with the Lehman report.

``There was nothing new in the report, and indeed the stock went up that day after the report was released because there was nothing new in it,'' Curry told The Times.

The sale also fell within a trading window in which executives would be allowed to divest their shares, Curry said.

To win an insider trading case, the government would have to prove that Bezos acted improperly on information that had a material effect on the company's stock but was not publicly available. Security lawyers also told the Times that a case of insider trading might be difficult to prove because shares actually rose more than 9 percent on the day the report was released.

It is not clear how many shares Bezos sold because SEC filings only indicate an intention to sell. If all the shares were sold, they represent 1 percent of Bezos' holdings.