Uber under criminal investigation, US Justice Dept confirms in letter to court

The logo of the ride-sharing service Uber seen in front of its headquarters in San Francisco, California. PHOTO: AFP

SAN FRANCISCO (NYTIMES) - Federal investigators are pursuing at least one criminal investigation into Uber, according to a court document released Wednesday (Dec 13).

The document, which was submitted by the US 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 Justice Department 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 the 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 Justice Department 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 security contractor, 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.

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 Jacob's letter public Friday.

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

Spokesmen for Waymo and the US attorney's office declined to comment.

"While we haven't substantiated all the claims in 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 the United States, a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

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