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A leaked trove of over 100,000 documents has revealed how ride-hailing giant Uber used its secret relationship with top European politicians, including French president Emmanuel Macron when he was serving as the country’s economy minister, for its aggressive global expansion.
The documents, dubbed the “Uber Files”, were first leaked to The Guardian and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). They include memos, presentations, notebooks, emails, iMessages and WhatsApp exchanges between Uber’s most senior executives.
The Uber Files, consisting of over 124,000 internal documents between 2013 and 2017, show how the company attempted to secretly gain support from top politicians in Europe, including prime ministers, billionaires, oligarchs, and media barons, according to the reports.
One part of the investigation focusses on Mr Macron’s conversations with Uber executives when he was the economy minister, with BBC News reporting that he was “on first name terms with Uber’s controversial boss Travis Kalanick” while taxi drivers in the country staged sometimes violent protests against the company.
Some top Uber executives reportedly sought to spin the violent protests to their advantage.
“Violence guarantee(s) success,” Mr Kalanick had reportedly messaged other leaders in the company, adding that the risk to drivers’ safety during such protests was “worth it”.
Former European Union (EU) digital commissioner Neelie Kroes, one of Brussels’ top officials, was also reportedly in talks to join Uber before her term ended and then secretly lobbied for the firm.
Uber and an advisory firm also reportedly put together lists of over 1,850 “stakeholders”, including sitting and former public officials, think tanks and citizens groups, that it hoped to influence in 29 countries and the EU.
There were over 100 meetings between Uber executives and public officials from 2014 to 2016, including 12 with representatives of the European Commission that haven’t been publicly disclosed, according to the ICIJ.
The documents suggest that Uber also used “stealth technology” to fend off investigations.
The ICIJ report says that the company used a “kill switch’’ to cut access to Uber servers and blocked authorities from grabbing evidence during raids in at least six countries.
“Please hit the kill switch ASAP ... Access must be shut down in AMS (Amsterdam),” Mr Kalanick reportedly said during a police raid in Amsterdam.
Reacting to the ICIJ investigation, Uber said it has “moved from an era of confrontation to one of collaboration” after Dara Khosrowshahi took over as the company’s chief following Mr Kalanick’s resignation in 2017.
“We have not and will not make excuses for past behavior that is clearly not in line with our present values. Instead, we ask the public to judge us by what we’ve done over the last five years and what we will do in the years to come,” Jill Hazelbaker, senior vice president of marketing and public affairs at Uber, said in a statement.
A spokesperson for Mr Kalanick has also denied allegations that Uber acted illegally.
“Mr Kalanick never suggested that Uber should take advantage of violence at the expense of driver safety. Any accusation that Mr Kalanick directed, engaged in, or was involved in any of these activities is completely false,” the spokesperson said.