Uber could face charges in Brussels, reports say

Belgium's capital allegedly plans to file a complaint against Uber as the ride-sharing service continues to operate despite being banned in the city. Also, reports surface of a possible investment from Baidu.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

Uber's smartphone personal vehicle service is in some hot water in Brussels. Uber

Another day, another potential roadblock for car-hailing service Uber.

Pascal Smet, the mobility minister for Brussels, has announced plans to file a complaint with police against Uber in the coming days, charging that the company is operating illegally in Belgium's capital, according to local reports on Friday. Smet also will file a formal complaint with federal regulators, asking them to block access to the company's mobile app.

Uber's service, which enables people to earn money by using their personal vehicles to give rides to people who traditionally might have called for a taxi, was banned in Brussels in April after taxi companies there took aim at the service. The consortium of taxi companies argued that Uber was in violation of taxi regulations. The city agreed and ordered that Uber stop providing its service.

Rather than shutting down, however, Uber continued operating in Brussels and has risked a fine of €10,000 per car to do so. It's unclear whether Uber has been levied any fines, but Smet's reported next move suggests there could be more at risk for the car-hailing service.

Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Brussels news is just the latest in a string of issues the company has faced recently. Last week, one of its drivers in New Delhi, India, allegedly attacked and raped a passenger who used the service late at night. A few days later, the city moved to ban Uber. Thailand and Spain have both moved forward with charges against Uber, saying that the service was operating illegally within their countries. Additionally, Uber has disregarded South Korea's warnings not to set up shop in Seoul and launched its service in that country this week.

Uber's troubles aren't limited to foreign cities. On Friday, Uber began operations in Portland, Ore., even though city officials have deemed the service illegal. Officials there said they're ready to issue civil and criminal penalties against the company and its drivers. Last month, after a judge issued a restraining order against the company, Uber decided to shut down its service in Nevada until it finds a legal way to resume business in the state.

Despite the setbacks and controversy, Uber remains defiant, saying that its service is being embraced in every city where it operates. Last week, Uber announced it raised a $1.2 billion round of funding that could put its total valuation as high as $40 billion. Uber operates in more than 250 cities in 50 countries.

Uber might also stand to generate even more cash in the coming weeks. China-based search engine Baidu is planning to buy an equity stake in Uber for as much as $600 million, Bloomberg reported late Thursday, citing people who claim to have knowledge of the companies' discussions. Baidu would take a minority stake in Uber and the deal could help the car service expand rapidly across China.

If the deal is sealed, Uber could quickly overcome some of the issues it's facing in Europe and the US. China's consumer market is exploding and Uber has a massive growth opportunity in China. Best of all for the company, partnering with Baidu -- a company in the good graces of the Chinese government -- could safeguard Uber from any issues with the government.

Back in Brussels, despite the calls for formal charges, Smet indicated that he might be willing to relax his stance on Uber. In a comment to local news outlet De Morgen, Smet said that Uber could be "welcome in the city" but must adhere to all local laws and regulations.

(Via TechCrunch)

Updated at 8:37 a.m. PT to include Baidu's possible investment.