Two of the bosses of Uber in France have been taken into custody over an investigation into alleged "illicit activity" linked to the company’s low-budget UberPOP app, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.
The detentions came amid rising tensions between the government and the ride-hailing company, which culminated last week in a violence-marred taxi strike that blocked roads around the country.
Uber France confirmed that its general manager, Thibaud Simphal, and Western Europe Director Pierre-Dimitri Gore Coty were questioned by Paris police.
An investigation was opened in 2014 into the UberPOP application (the equivalent of UberX in the United States), which is used to put paying clients in contact with private drivers who charge less than traditional taxi drivers.
Judicial sources told the AFP news agency that investigators are looking at whether the service constitutes an “illegal operation” as UberPOP drivers do not have to pay the same social charges as taxi drivers.
They are also probing whether Uber has violated data protection laws in the way it gathers and stores customers’ private information, said the sources.
The UberPOP app has been illegal in France since a new law regulating competition within the taxi industry was passed in October, with penalties up to two years in prison and fines up to 300,000 euros for non-registered drivers who pick up fares.
France’s interior ministry used the new regulations to explicitly ban UberPOP from operating in Paris as of January 1. However, the law has proved difficult to enforce and UberPOP drivers have continued to provide rides in France.
Meanwhile, Uber has appealed to French administrative courts, arguing that the law went against the freedom of entrepreneurship.
On Tuesday, the case was deferred to France’s constitutional council, which has three months to make a final ruling.
Uber has said it will keep operating the service until the court reaches a decision.
The San Francisco-based company has faced rising anger in several countries, particularly in France where a taxi strike last week turned violent as drivers set fire to vehicles and blocked highways, creating a headache for thousands of tourists.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve threw his weight behind the striking cabbies by calling on the police to immediately clampdown on UberPOP.
Though he condemned the violent protests as “unacceptable”, French President François Hollande also called for the amateur chauffeur service to be shut down.
“UberPOP should be dismantled and declared illegal,” he said.
Licensed cabbies say Uber is endangering their jobs by flooding the market with low-cost drivers.
Uber, which offers several types of ride-sharing services, claims to have 400,000 UberPOP users in France.
However, its drivers do not pay the same level of social charges, do not need to undergo the 250 hours of training mandatory for French cabbies and do not require the same insurance as taxis.
Uber argues that the French taxi system is outdated and needs reform to keep up with apps and geolocalisation.
The standoff reflects larger tensions in France over how to regulate fast-moving technology and stay globally competitive while ensuring labour protections.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2015-06-29