An Uber motorcycle taxi driver waits for customers next to a shopping mall in Jakarta, Indonesia Sept 20, 2017. Source: Reuters

Uber reviews Asia operations amid criminal probe, bribery allegations

RIDE-HAILING provider Uber Technologies Inc is facing a US federal probe on possible bribery violations and is reviewing its Asia operations over what is said to be suspicious activities in five countries throughout the region.

According to Bloomberg, the company has notified US officials about payments made by staff in Indonesia, people familiar with the matter said, as the Justice Department looks into a possible criminal case.

The report said Uber was working with law firm O’Melveny & Myers LLP to examine records of foreign payments and interview employees, the sources who declined to be identified said. The records have raised questions on why potentially problematic business dealings were not disclosed sooner, Bloomberg reported.

At least five Asian countries have been identified as the focus of attorneys: China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea.

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

An Uber motorcycle taxi driver waits for customers next to a shopping mall in Jakarta, Indonesia Sept 20, 2017. Source: Shutterstock

The sources said an employee in Indonesia had doled out several small payments to police to operate the office although it was purportedly outside city’s zone for businesses.

The employee was subsequently fired by the company while the Uber’s head of Indonesia business, Alan Jiang, who approved the expense report, was placed on leave of absence before he resigned.

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The people familiar with the matter said at least one senior member of Uber’s legal team initially decided not to report the incident late last year but the company informed the Justice Department of the incident in Indonesia after the matter came to light. It is common for the Justice Department to be lenient when a company discloses information voluntarily.

Uber’s solicitors also launched a probe into a corporate donation announced in August last year, which amounted to tens of thousands of dollars to the Malaysian Global Initiative and Creative Centre (MaGic), a technologically-driven entrepreneur hub backed by the government. In that period, Malaysian pension fund Kumpulan Wang Persaraan invested US$30 million in Uber, the sources said.

A year later, the Malaysian government passed ride-hailing laws that favored Uber and its rivals. The lawyers were investigating the possibility of any form of quid pro quo, according to Bloomberg.

The sources said two former business executives at Uber Emil Michael and Eric Alexander, played key roles in the deals. Alexander is also coming under scrutiny over possession of an India rape victim’s medical records, which he reportedly carried with him for several months in 2015.

The dealings in South Korea and China are also under review but the details were not clear.