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Jeff Bezos makes $98.5 million donation, UK Labour leader calls him out: 'Just pay your taxes'

Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon
Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images

Jeff Bezos donated $98.5 million to dozens of groups helping the homeless population last week. But one of the world's wealthiest men continues to face criticism of his philanthropic efforts from those who feel Bezos could afford to give more.

The latest critic to chime in with respect to the Amazon CEO's charitable giving is U.K. Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who noted in a tweet on Sunday that the amount of Bezos' latest donation represents only "0.09%" of the billionaire's net worth. (That math checks out, based on the Forbes estimate of Bezos' net worth at roughly $110.3 billion.)

Corbyn followed up with a call for Bezos to "just pay your taxes," likely a reference to the fact that Amazon paid a total of $0 in federal taxes for 2018 despite reporting profits of more than $11 billion before taxes for that year.

In the past, critics argued that the Amazon CEO was not putting his massive wealth toward enough philanthropic efforts. In September 2018, Bezos launched his Bezos Day One Fund, a $2 billion philanthropic fund aimed at fighting homelessness and supporting education in low-income communities. (The recent grants are part of that fund.)

However, Bezos' pledge was still met with questions, including from skeptics who wondered how exactly the $2 billion would be put to use and why the billionaire was pledging a total amount equal to less than 2% of his overall net worth. Bezos also never revealed how long it would take him to donate the entire $2 billion, though he hinted the fund might grow over time.

Even with that large pledge, Bezos still only ranked 23rd on Forbes' ranking of the top charitable givers of 2018. The Amazon CEO donated a total of $131 million last year, according to Forbes, including a $97.5 million donation to 24 groups fighting homelessness (he topped that gift by $1 million with last week's donation). By comparison, fellow billionaires Warren Buffett gave a total of $3.4 billion to charity last year, while Bill and Melinda Gates donated $2.6 billion.

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Forbes estimates Bezos' net worth is more than any other individual, while Bloomberg pegs his wealth at $109 billion, tied with Gates for wealthiest in the world on that publication's ranking.

"We pay all taxes owed everywhere we operate," an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement provided to CNBC Make It. "The UK Government wrote the tax laws and they are designed to encourage investment, and we are investing heavily in creating jobs and infrastructure across the U.K. — more than £18bn [$23.1 billion] since 2010."

The spokesperson added that the company's U.K. investments have "helped contribute to a total tax contribution in the U.K." of more than $1 billion in 2018, including both direct and indirect taxes. The company also announced plans in July to create 2,000 new jobs in the U.K., which would bring the total Amazon workforce in that country to more than 29,500 workers, the spokesperson said.

The U.K. Labour party leader has frequently criticized Bezos and Amazon over the company's low tax bills in the past, including sending the company a sarcastic birthday card for Amazon's 25th anniversary in July. In the card, Corbyn wished Amazon "many happy tax returns" while insisting that the company should pay higher U.K. taxes. "You owe the British people millions in taxes that pay for the public services that we all rely on," Corbyn wrote in the letter.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle, from President Donald Trump to Sen. Bernie Sanders, have criticized Amazon for taking advantage of various tax breaks to lower the company's tax obligations.

"Amazon pays all the taxes we are required to pay in the U.S. and every country where we operate, including paying $2.6 billion in corporate tax and reporting $3.4 billion in tax expense over the last three years," an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement provided to CNBC Make It in February.

While Bezos' personal tax filings are not public, his name is frequently mentioned by proponents of levying heavier tax rates on billionaires like the Amazon CEO, including two prominent Democratic presidential candidates. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's proposed wealth tax could cost Bezos roughly $6.5 billion a year, while that number would rise to $9 billion a year under a similar proposed tax from Sanders.

This article has been updated with a statement from an Amazon spokesperson.

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