Uber France Leaders Arrested For Running Illegal Taxi Company

Uber France CEO Thibaud Simphal and Uber Europe GM Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty were both taken into custody today in Paris. The AFP first broke the news. The police started investigating Uber in November 2014 and raided its office in Paris in March 2015.

The two executives were charged with two different allegations. First, according to them, Uber is running illegal taxi operations. Uber has been struggling with this charge in many countries, starting with the U.S. In 2010, the company had to change its original name from UberCab to Uber as taxi companies didn’t want to create any confusion.

Second, the police said that Uber France is concealing digital documents. It’s hard to tell what the police was looking for when they raided the French office in March. But apparently, some documents are missing and slowing down the investigation.

The transportation company executives weren’t taken into custody because of the violent protests that occurred last Thursday — taxi drivers want Uber to stop its cheapest service, UberPOP. But it’s hard to rule out a link between the two events. The police might have sped up its investigation following last week’s incidents. Cabbies damaged 70 cars — some of them were even flipped over and burnt.

As a reminder UberPOP was launched in February 2014 and is the confusingly named equivalent of UberX in France (UberX in France is the equivalent of Uber in the U.S.). With UberPOP, anyone can become a driver without any special professional license.

Many taxi drivers saw the new service as unfair competition. UberPOP was banned in Brussels, the Netherlands and, yes, France.

The French police has been issuing fines for a few months now, but when an UberPOP driver gets fined, Uber pays for the fine. Recently, Uber rolled out UberPOP in a few smaller French cities, making it available to many more potential customers.

That’s why taxi drivers protested against UberPOP last week, asking for a real unequivocal ban. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve talked with taxi unions, told the police to stop UberPOP drivers and fine them — 200 additional police officers are now in charge of this task. France President François Hollande also reminded that UberPOP cars could get seized by the police, but it’s unclear whether it will become a widespread practice.

Yet, as long as there is no justice court order, the Government can’t do much more than that. On Thursday, Uber France director Thibaud Simphal said to BFM TV that as long as a justice court didn’t order Uber to stop UberPOP, the service would continue — as of today, you can still find UberPOP cars when you open the app.

Update: We’ve reached out to Uber, a spokesperson sent us the following statement (translated from French):

Our CEO for France and General Manager for Western Europe were invited to a police hearing this afternoon; following this interview, they were taken into custody. We are always available to answer all the questions on our service, and available to the authorities to solve any problem that could come up. Talks are in progress. In the meantime, we keep working in order to make sure that both our customers and drivers are safe following last week’s turmoils.