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Amazon says social network Parler is trying to conceal its ownership, new court filings show

Katherine Anne Long, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

Parler, a social network billing itself as the conservative alternative to Twitter, is seeking to conceal its ownership, Amazon contended in new legal filings Tuesday as the dispute between the companies plays out in Seattle courts.

An attorney for Parler, Angelo Calfo, disputed that claim, saying the burden was on Amazon to prove who owns the social network.

"This is a ginned-up effort to try to throw mud at Parler, when Parler has been completely clear about its ownership," Calfo said in an interview Tuesday.

The legal battle between Amazon and Parler kicked off in January when Parler protested Amazon's decision to terminate its cloud-computing contract, temporarily wiping Parler from the internet. Amazon said Parler didn't adequately moderate a surge in violent content on its site before, during and after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol., in violation of the tech giant's terms of service.

Parler asked a federal district judge in Seattle to force Amazon to reinstate it on the web. When that failed, Parler filed a new complaint against Amazon in King County Superior Court — a move Amazon's attorneys wrote in their filing Tuesday was so that "Parler could more readily escape" a hearing in front of a judge who had already taken a dim view of the social network's claims. "Parler's judge shopping is evident," Amazon's attorneys wrote.

Amazon immediately dragged the case back into federal court, where it was assigned to the same judge who had ruled against Parler. The social network objected to the move, arguing in part that a Washington federal court has no jurisdiction over the case since both Amazon and Parler are incorporated in Delaware. (Amazon was originally incorporated in Seattle but reincorporated in Delaware in 1996.)

 

In its filing Tuesday, Amazon argued that Parler has not shown it is a Delaware-based company, in part because it has refused to share documents outlining the terms and beneficiaries of a trust that is Parler's ultimate owner.

Parler did share information about its corporate structure with Amazon at the start of its lawsuit, Calfo noted. Those documents were sealed to protect the identities of the parties due to threats of violence emerging from the Jan. 6 riot.

It seems likely, though, that prominent Republican political donor Rebekah Mercer controls the social network. For legal purposes, Parler may be a corporate citizen of New York, where Mercer resides. Mercer has confirmed that she helped bankroll the site and has emerged in recent months as Parler's shadow executive after ousting Parler founder John Matze as CEO in February.

Matze, in declarations in the suit with Amazon, has said that Parler's nesting-doll corporate structure was designed to "mask [Mercer's] role in Parler."

If Mercer does control Parler, the social network's case against Amazon will likely be heard in front of the same Seattle judge who ruled against Parler once before.

©2021 The Seattle Times. Visit seattletimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.