US Justice Department shuts probe on Uber bribery charges
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US Justice Department shuts probe on Uber bribery charges

A recent article written by Sumit Kumar Singh of IANS, questions how Uber Technologies Inc. was able to obtain the medical documents of a Delhi cab rape victim’s confidential medical documents. It seems someone in the Delhi Police force and local hospital authorities received bribe money to share case files with Uber, but he United States Department of Justice closed a probe against San Francisco-based Uber Technologies Inc under American bribery laws.

The article alleges that Uber bribed top Delhi Police officers as well as hospital authorities to obtain medical and other records of the rape victim. The controversy emerged in 2017 after which a probe against Uber under Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) started. Indian central government and the probing agencies, including Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Delhi Police’s vigilance department, awaited the outcome of the investigation carried out by the fraud section of United States Department of Justice’s Criminal Division. Unfortunately, their expectation of a positive outcome in order to prosecute the corrupt were dashed when the US Justice Department decided to close the probe.

Uber revealed this fact in its Securities and Exchange Commission filing in the US early January, Uber revealed that the US Department of Justice told Uber that it “will not be pursuing enforcement action.” The Justice Department did not issue its own press release, nor did it post a declination letter on its website.

The company had disclosed the ongoing investigation in its stock prospectus filed on May 9, 2019. “We received requests from the Department of Justice in May 2017 and August 2017 with respect to an investigation into allegations of small payments to police in Indonesia and other potential improper payments in other countries in which we operate or have operated, including Malaysia, China, and India,” the prospectus said.

It added that the company was cooperating with the investigation.

The article says that in 2017, US Department of Justice launched a probe to investigate whether the company had broken US laws by bribing foreign officials offshore. The investigation was started after it was found that then Uber CEO Travis Kalanick had allegedly obtained medical records of the rape victim through “irregular payments”.

It was alleged in India that Delhi Police officers and hospital authorities received bribes from Uber. After the allegations came to light, Kalanick was forced to step down and Dara Khosrowshahi took the top job in August 2017.

The rape victim sued the company in a San Francisco federal court in 2017 saying that shortly following the incident, a US-based Uber executive “met with Delhi Police and intentionally obtained her confidential medical records.” The victim alleged in the lawsuit that Uber kept a copy of those records.

“Uber executives duplicitously and publicly decried the rape, expressing sympathy for plaintiff, and shock and regret at the violent attack, while privately speculating, as outlandish as it is, that she had colluded with a rival company to harm Uber’s business,” the lawsuit said.

The rape victim was living in the United States when she filed the lawsuit, which turned the spotlight on Uber. Later in December 2017, Uber and the victim agreed to settle a civil lawsuit.

The rape case pertains to rape of a 25-year-old woman based in New Delhi on December 5, 2014 by an Uber driver. On December 7, 2014, the Uber driver Shiv Kumar Yadav was arrested from Mathura. On October 20, 2015, a Delhi court convicted Yadav for rape and sentenced him to life on October 23, 2015.

Following this, Indian probe agencies wanted to know who were the errant police and hospital officers allegedly involved in taking bribes from Uber so that they could carry out a probe against them.

It was reported that there is a complaint made by a Delhi court lawyer to Delhi Police’s vigilance department alleging bribes being taken by a few police officers in the Uber rape case. The complaint was also received by the Office of Commissioner of Police of Delhi Police however no action was taken against the errant police officers.

With the US Department of Justice closing the probe against the Uber in their bribery case and in Delhi, the Office of Commissioner of Police turning a blind eye to the matter, it will now be nearly impossible to trace and probe the errant cops who took bribes in the case.

A senior CBI officer said, “The matter is related to Delhi Police. We can only act when we receive a complaint or else we cannot take up the matter.”

Delhi Police on contrary said it is the Police Commissioner who has to decide. “He only can look into the matter,” said a senior IPS officer with Delhi Police.

This article highlights only a single incident. According to a similar article published in the Wall Street Journal, Uber faced bribery allegations in Indonesia, Malaysia, and China as well.