Uber starts 'review of Asia ops amid probe'

It is cooperating with US Justice Dept as it looks into suspicious activity in Indonesia

SAN FRANCISCO • Uber Technologies, facing a United States federal probe into whether it broke laws against overseas bribery, has embarked on a review of its Asia operations and notified US officials about payments made by staff in Indonesia, people with knowledge of the matter said.

As the US Justice Department looks into a possible criminal case, Uber is working with a law firm to examine records of foreign payments and interview employees, raising questions about why some potentially problematic business dealings were not disclosed sooner, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the details are private.

Attorneys are focused on suspicious activity in at least five Asian countries: China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea.

Uber said it is cooperating with investigators but declined to comment further.

Mr Wyn Hornbuckle, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment.

Late last year, Uber had a run-in with the Indonesia police over the location of an office in Jakarta providing support to local drivers, people with knowledge of the events said.

The police officers said the space was outside city zoning for businesses. So an employee decided to dole out multiple, small payments to the police in order to continue operating there.

The transactions showed up on the employee's expense reports, described as payments to the local authorities. Uber fired the employee, the people said.

Mr Alan Jiang, the company's head of Indonesia business who approved the expense report, was placed on a leave of absence and has since left the company.

At least one senior member of the legal team at Uber initially decided not to report the incident to US officials when he learnt of it late last year, sources said.

After the Justice Department approached Uber about possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Uber informed officials about what had happened in Indonesia. The Justice Department can be more lenient when a company voluntarily discloses information.

Uber's law firm is also investigating a corporate donation, announced in August last year, of tens of thousands of dollars to the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre, a government-backed entrepreneur hub.

Around that time, a Malaysian pension fund, Kumpulan Wang Persaraan, invested US$30 million (S$40 million) in Uber, said people familiar with the deal. Less than a year later, the Malaysian government passed national ride-hailing laws that were favourable to Uber and its peers.

Lawyers are trying to determine whether there was any form of quid pro quo.

Dealings in China and South Korea are also under review, though the details are unclear.

The bribery inquiry is one of at least three federal probes the San Francisco-based company faces - the other two involve software developed by Uber to gather data on competitors and deceive law enforcement officials conducting stings on Uber drivers.

The mounting legal troubles have played a role in the departures of several top executives, including founder Travis Kalanick.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline 'Uber starts 'review of Asia ops amid probe''. Print Edition | Subscribe