Uber: new charges on endless judicial drama
San Francisco – The clouds keep piling up for Uber, now accused of having set up an organized system to escape justice, adding to the hassle of his new boss named to put the group back on the right track.
According to a former employee, the U. S. Driver Car Rental Service (VTC) has set up a system to retrieve information about competitors and regulators, exchanged and stored via Uber-linked mailboxes and servers.
Uber “has put in place a sophisticated strategy to destroy, conceal, cover up and falsify records or documents with the intent to prevent or impede government investigations” or any pending or future legal proceedings, is written in a letter sent by the U. S. Department of Justice to a California judge.
Because of this new element, partially made public during a hearing in San Francisco, the California court postponed sine die the trial that was supposed to oppose, from Monday, Uber to Waymo, Alphabet’s autonomous car subsidiary (Google’s parent company).
Waymo accuses Uber, who also works on driverless driving, of stealing technology secrets from him.
According to Uber, this testimony has nothing to do with Waymo and does not change the substance of the case.
Former employee Richard Jacobs, who was responsible for “intelligence” (“global intelligence”) at Uber, said his former employer paid him $4.5 million to avoid denigrating the group.
“Uber is going to be very expensive because judges have no sense of humour about collusion and concealment at this level,”said analyst Rob Enderle.
It is a new ball at the foot of Dara Khosrowshahi, appointed at the end of August to put the group back on track after months of scandals, with a planned stock market flotation in 2019.
This ambition requires that the group must be presented to the American stock exchange authorities, which will examine its accounts. It will also have to convince potential investors that the era of scandals attached to Travis Kalanick, the controversial former boss pushed out by worried investors in June, is now over.
But if the new manager had recently decreed that Uber should move “from an era of growth at all costs to one of responsible growth”, this objective now sounds like a pious wish, as the Herculean task seems to be similar to cleaning up Augias’ stables.
As recently as last week, Uber revealed the hacking of 57 million user data in 2016, which has led to investigations. The group is suspected of hiding this piracy for months.
But that’s not all: the U. S. justice system also investigates suspicions of corruption abroad or the use of other illegal software to spy on competition or evade government control. In several countries, Uber has turned his back on the traditional taxis, which see in him their scheduled death.
The billions of SoftBank-
The group has also been working with regulators abroad, particularly in London, one of its largest markets, where it has recently lost its licence. On Monday again, it was the Israeli justice system that banned Uber because of problems with passenger insurance.
Accusations about a system of organized industrial cover-up and espionage come at a time when the group is negotiating a huge, multi-billion dollar investment led by the Japanese SoftBank. The consortium of investors is expected to inject 1 billion in cash and also wants to take a stake of up to 14%.
Uber wants to see this investment as a sign of “confidence” but SoftBank is in a strong position to lower the price of the shares due to the setbacks of the VTC group.
According to a SoftBank spokesman on Wednesday, the funds “Benchmark, Menlo Ventures and other historical investors intend to sell shares” to the consortium.
Especially since the group continues to lose hundreds of millions of dollars. According to the American press, Uber, which does not publish certified accounts, increased its loss in the third quarter to $1.46 billion.
Uber “has a long way to go to regain the trust of users (…) and that of the financial community,”said analyst Jack Gold.