Possible bribery in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea

Uber’s attorneys are investigating the possibility of improper payments in Asia, including what Bloomberg calls “suspicious activity” in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea.

In one incident in Jakarta, Indonesia, an Uber employee is said to have “decided to dole out multiple, small payments to police in order to continue operating there.” The company’s head of Indonesia approved the expense report — and was later placed on leave and left the company.

In another instance, Uber contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre, a government-backed entrepreneur hub. Soon thereafter, the Malaysian government passed laws favorable to Uber. Lawyers are assessing whether this was a quid-pro-quo or otherwise improper.

Tracked driver activity on Grab

Uber sought information about the drivers and activity of Grab, Uber’s major competitor in Southeast Asia. To do so, Uber’s Surfcam program connected to Grab servers to figure out how many drivers were connected and where they were.

Bloomberg describes legal concerns associated with Surfcam:

Surfcam raised alarms with at least one member of Uber’s legal team, who questioned whether it could be legally operated in Singapore because it may run afoul of Grab’s terms of service or the country’s strict computer-crime laws, a person familiar with the matter said.

Nonetheless, Bloomberg reports, the creator of Surfcam is still working for Uber, having moved from Singapore to Uber’s European headquarters in Amsterdam.

See also the “Hell” program whereby Uber tracked data from Lyft.

Fined for operating without permits in Philippines

The Philippines Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) fined Uber for 5 million Philippine pesos (about US$97,000) for letting some drivers operate without permits. Uber and fellow TNC Grab defended their action by citing passenger demand, explaining that if the did not add new drivers, they would be unable to serve passenger requests. But LTFRB Chairman Martin Delgra III pointed out that this purpose did not excuse the companies from complying with applicable laws.

According to the LTFRB, of the 10,054 active drivers that Uber submitted, less than 2,000 had active and valid permits.

LFTRB Tweet alerting drivers to the obligation to cease operations, and encouraging Uber to “to extend financial assistance” to drivers because drivers “would not have suffered the current predicament were it not for the predatory actions of respondent Uber.”

The LTFRB subsequently offered to lift the one-month suspension if Uber paid a penalty of 190 million pesos ($3.7 million). Senator Grace Poe, a Philippines legislator favoring improving transport, said the hefty fine should “make Uber rethink its actions and re-evaluate its strategy in testing the extent of government regulations.”

Ignored Philippines regulator’s order to cease operation

After the Philippines Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) ordered Uber to cease operations, Uber cited “overwhelming rider and driver demand” in deciding to continue to operate. Uber filed a motion for reconsideration, asking LTFRB to revisit its decision, but the regulator indicated that Uber drivers were still not allowed to pick up passengers while that request was underway. Nonetheless Uber continued service.

Prohibited pricing practices in India

In an August 2017 decision, a New Delhi magistrate held that Uber, as well as local competitor Ola, had violated the Motor Vehicles Act by charging prices other than those specified by law. See Section 67(d).

The decision resulted from a complaint filed by a non-government organization, Nyayabhoomi, which also alleged other violations: vehicles with tourist permits providing services on point-to-point basis in violation of law; running on diesel fuel in violation of orders from the Supreme Court of India.

Knowingly leased recalled vehicles to drivers in Singapore

Uber knowingly leased recalled vehicles to its drivers in Singapore. A Wall Street Journal report (paid subscription required) describes a driver whose vehicle caught fire, due to the problem fixed by the recall, just after a passenger got out. WSJ explains:

News of the fire rippled through Uber’s Singapore office after its insurance provider said it wouldn’t cover the damage because of the known recall, emails show. Word reached Uber’s San Francisco executives two days later, emails show.

Uber’s lawyers in Singapore began assessing the legal liability, including possibly violating driver contracts for supplying faulty cars and failing to immediately inform the Land Transport Authority about the defective cars, emails show. “There is clearly a large safety/responsible actor/brand integrity/PR issue” for Uber, an internal report read.

Additional coverage from TechCrunch.