Uber spent £75m a year courting politicians and allegedly broke laws by undermining the global taxi market, according to an investigation.
Tens of thousands of leaked documents from 2013 to 2017 reportedly show executives joking about how they have become “pirates” and “simply illegal” in many countries.
The files are said to detail the aggressive tactics the company used to persuade executives to reform its rules under then-boss Travis Kalanick, who resigned in 2017 amid damning reports about the company’s corporate culture.
The 45-year-old, who has since made more than £2billion from selling his shares, allegedly dismissed serious safety concerns for his drivers as he fought efforts to ban or limit ride-sharing programmes. He denies that he “conducted illegal or inappropriate conduct.”
He is said to have ordered French managers to encourage local Uber drivers to stage a counter-protest in 2016 after traditional taxi drivers took to the streets in anger at how the program hurt their wages.
In one alleged exchange of messages, he was warned that “far-right thugs” had infiltrated the protest and were “cooking up a fight” with Uber drivers, but he replied: “I think it’s worth it.
Guarantee of violence[s] success And these guys need to be confronted, right? They agreed that the place and time should be thought through.”
Mr Kalanick was shown to be close to Emmanuel Macron, the current French president, who was economy minister at the time.
After the protests, Mr. Macron promised to reform the laws in favor of Uber.
The company has often run afoul of taxi monopolists with shady ties to local authorities, but appears to have acknowledged using fraudulent tactics in low-corruption countries such as Sweden, France and Germany.
The emails between employees mentioned that Uber was actively breaking the rules or had an “illegal status” in those countries, as well as the Czech Republic, Turkey, South Africa and Russia.
Amid efforts to block Uber in India and Thailand in 2014, one senior executive wrote to a colleague: “Sometimes we get into trouble because, well, we’re just illegal.”
The files also show that Uber created a “kill switch” to shut down the company’s computers whenever police tried to break into their offices.
Uber has also been in talks with former EU digital commissioner Neely Kroos to join Uber before her term expires, the files show.
She was allegedly asked to lobby Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s campaign, a potential ethics violation.
The files were leaked to the Guardian and shared with media outlets including the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and BBC Panorama.
Uber says its “past behavior was inconsistent with its current values” and that it is a “different company” today.
A spokesman for Mr Kalanick said the allegations about his behavior were part of a “bogus agenda”.
Uber said it removed the opt-out system after Mr Kalanick was replaced in 2017 and that it “was never meant to be used to impede legitimate regulatory action”.
But the company added that transport laws have become obsolete since the advent of the smartphone and that “there are no rules for carpooling anywhere in the world”.
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