friday, 15 december of 2017

Uber under criminal investigation, Justice Dept. confirms in letter to Court

Federal investigators are pursuing at least one criminal investigation into Uber, according to a court document released on Wednesday.

The document, which was submitted by the United States attorney’s office in the northern district of California, does not specify what the agency is investigating, but it is the first public confirmation by the Department of Justice of a federal inquiry into the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company. In the past, The New York Times and others have reported the existence of federal inquiries into Uber over various issues, but authorities have not said anything publicly about them.

The disclosure came as a result of a stolen trade secrets case between Uber and Waymo, the self-driving vehicle unit that operates under Google’s parent company. Waymo had alleged that Anthony Levandowski, a former employee, stole trade secrets about driverless cars from Google before leaving and subsequently used what he learned at Uber. Uber has denied Waymo’s allegations. The case is scheduled to go to trial next month.

As part of the case, the Department of Justice submitted to the judge, William Alsup, the letter that was made public on Wednesday. In the letter, dated Nov. 22, the department informed the judge that there was additional evidence that Uber had not turned over in the case, referring to claims from Richard Jacobs, a former Uber employee, that Uber had been secretly gathering intelligence on competitors.

“In the course of a United States’ pending criminal investigation, the government interviewed a former Uber employee named Richard Jacobs,” said the letter.

Mr. Jacobs appeared in court last month to testify about his evidence, which he had written in a letter to Uber executives. The court plans to make a redacted copy of Mr. Jacobs’s letter public on Friday.

The Justice Department’s appearance in the case is unusual because the agency does not often intervene in matters outside of its own cases.

Spokesmen for Waymo and the United States attorney’s office declined to comment.

“While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in Mr. Jacobs’ letter — and, importantly, any related to Waymo — our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology,” Matt Kallman, an Uber spokesman, said in a statement.

Any federal criminal investigation into Uber could be looking into several matters. Earlier this year, The Times reported that Uber was the subject of a federal inquiry into a software tool known as Greyball, which the company used to evade law enforcement in cities across the world. Uber is also subject to inquiries as to whether it bribed officials outside of the United States, a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Correction: December 13, 2017
An earlier version of this article misstated Richard Jacobs’s relationship to Uber, which he has said secretly gathered intelligence on competitors. Mr. Jacobs is a former Uber employee, not a former security contractor for the company.

(Published by The New York Times - December 13, 2017)

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