Ride-sharing app faces regulatory pressure in London and across Europe
Uber claims Paris prosecutors bent rules for criminal conviction
Uber Technologies said its French UberPop unit fell victim to political pressure that caused local prosecutors to bend rules to gain a criminal conviction, as the ride-sharing service fights attempts by regulators around Europe to rein it in.
Pressure from leaders including then-President Francois Hollande led the prosecution team to be “the most imaginative it could” to build a criminal case against the unit, the company’s lawyer, Guillaume Pellegrin, said during the first day of a trial at the Paris court of appeals Monday.
Uber, which last week had its license revoked by London transport authorities, is facing global legal challenges as existing taxi operators fight its attempts to gain footing in new regions. Transport for London faulted the company on its background checks and crime reporting, while French prosecutors accused it of illegally operating a taxi service and improperly using drivers’ personal data.
Pellegrin said the data accusations shouldn’t have gotten to court because authorities failed to give sufficient details to the defense team as required.
“No one was harmed by this infringement, which was created out of thin air by the prosecution to ensure the accusation was as harsh as possible,” Pellegrin said. The appeal court judges said they would issue their decision on the request to void the court summons on the data allegation on November 7.
The assistant public prosecutor said investigating UberPop was “fully within its normal mandate” given the concerns raised about the service.
The Paris criminal court fined Uber €800,000 (U$948,000) last year. Thibaud Simphal, formerly head of Uber’s French operations, was fined €20,000 while Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, the company’s general manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, was ordered to pay €30,000.
The Paris judge said the two men incited others to break the law by working for the service, which in turn led to riots and taxi strikes in Paris. Uber France and the two men appealed the verdict, leading to the trial begun on Monday.
Until it was suspended in 2015, the UberPop allowed anyone with a vehicle and driver’s license to offer a taxi service, in contrast with Uber’s main chauffeured-car service that requires registration with authorities.
Paris, one of Uber’s biggest markets, has been prime ground for the car-hailing app to show it can adapt to local constraints while expanding globally. Repeated chauffeur protests, legal setbacks and some scolding from government prompted the company to create a support fund for drivers and launch a series of initiatives for chauffeurs from extra insurance to loans.
On Friday, the UK’s TfL also pointed to Uber’s use of a program called “Greyball” used to avoid regulators as a reason to end its ability to operate in the city. London is one of Uber’s largest and most lucrative markets, with 40,000 drivers and 3.5 million people who use the app once every 90 days.
While the company said it would fight the suspension in court, new chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi apologized and acknowledged the company played fast and loose with the rules in its race to upend the global transportation industry.