Trial of two French Uber executives begins

12 Feb, 2016

Uber execs deny they illegally operated a taxi service

The trial of two French Uber executives, accused of illegally operating a taxi service, began yesterday, in what is one of the taxi-hailing service's most serious legal battles to date.

During the opening of the trial in Paris, Uber executives repeatedly disassociated themselves with the launch or running of the ride-sharing service, known as Uberpop, which commissioned drivers without professional licences.

MD Thibaud Simphal and Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, general manager for Western Europe when he was charged, maintained that the company’s offices in the Netherlands and the US were responsible for all strategic decisions, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“I simply organised the promotion of the service to users and drivers,” said Gore-Coty, under questioning from a prosecutor. “It wasn’t my role nor was I qualified to judge its legality.”

Gore-Coty, who is now Uber’s operational chief for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said later that Uber’s French arm did not select drivers, organise driver training, or decide on the language of promotions for Uberpop.

Uber executives face six charges in total, which include ignoring taxi and privacy laws and operating misleading commercial practices.

They argue they have been treated unfairly as part of the French government’s attempt to appease taxi companies and drivers, based in part on laws that are invalid because they infringe on European Union treaties.

The Uber executive were grinded about company documents, including spreadsheets, training documents and other communications that were seized by police when they were indicted.

One charge accuses Uber executives of deceptively claiming that Uberpop was legal when it was not – particularly following a €100,000 fine the company had received in a separate criminal case. To illustrate this, the court heard three different radio ads encouraging drivers to sign up for Uberpop to earn extra money, said the WSJ.

Gore-Coty told the court that his then-boss – who has since left the company – instructed him that the fact that Uber was appealing the fine meant that the company could continue advertising Uberpop.

Uber’s latest court case adds to mounting pressure on the ride-hailing service from cab drivers, trade groups and courts.

The Uberpop was closed in Brussels in September, following a court case with a local taxi firm, and it was ordered to pay €1.2 million to a French taxi union in January.

In the UK, however, Uber did manage to deflect claims that its should be classified as a private-hired vehicle service, and so the rules that govern taxi firms do not directly apply to it.

The case continues.