A French court has fined Uber and two of its executives for running an illegal transport service with non-professional drivers in the first such criminal case in Europe.
The UberPop service connected clients via a smartphone app with non-professional drivers using their own cars. Uber France suspended the service last year after the government banned it under pressure from licensed taxi drivers.
It was the first time executives from the world’s most valuable venture-capital backed startup have gone on trial, though the company has become embroiled in many legal battles as it has expanded to 60 countries since its founding in 2009.
The Paris criminal court ordered California-based Uber to pay €800,000 (£625,000), but half of the fine was suspended. It also found Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Thibaud Simphal, the company’s manager in France, guilty of deceptive commercial practices and being accomplices in operating an illegal transport service.
Gore-Coty was fined €30,000 and Simphal €20,000, with half of the fine suspended in both cases.
The court did not follow the prosecutor’s recommendation that they be banned from running a company in France. They had faced a possible maximum sentence of five years in jail and a €1.5m fine.
UberPop has been declared illegal by courts in Italy, Spain and Germany, and appeals are pending in Belgium and the Netherlands.
The company’s problems in Europe have led it to shift its focus to its service staffed by professional drivers, which has grown rapidly in France and now employs about 10,000 drivers.
The European commission, Europe’s top business regulator, said this month that EU member states should only ban “sharing economy” services such as Uber and Airbnb as a last resort.