* Rare criminal case against Uber drivers
* Several Asian countries taking tough line against Uber
* Drivers appeal verdict
(Adds more details of charges, background)
HONG KONG, March 10 (Reuters) - A Hong Kong court on Friday
found five Uber drivers guilty of illegally offering
ride-hailing services, the latest clampdown against Uber
Technologies Inc's operations in Asia and a rare case
where drivers have been found criminally liable.
Authorities in several Asian countries are taking a tougher
stance against the San Francisco-based firm, amid growing
complaints from traditional taxi drivers who say Uber drivers
are not properly registered nor insured.
Uber pulled out of Taiwan less than a month ago over
mounting fines from regulators, while Thai authorities have
cracked down on drivers following protests from unhappy taxi
The five were convicted for not having proper licenses and
insurance to operate vehicles for commercial purposes.
"Members of the public may find the innovative mode of
transport very attractive," Judge So Wai-tak said while issuing
"However, any private car service with the aim of carrying
members of the public as passengers must be regulated and put
under control, otherwise the interest and safety of passengers
might be compromised."
The judge said he didn't see much difference between Uber
drivers and "pirate taxi drivers in the past."
The court fined the drivers HK$10,000 ($1,287.91) each. It
also revoked their driving licences for a year, but that
punishment was suspended upon the drivers' appeal.
Uber said it was disappointed with the verdict.
"Sharing a ride shouldn't be a crime," said Kenneth She,
General Manager for Uber in Hong Kong, adding the firm would
continue to promote ride-sharing services in the city.
"Hong Kong's current transportation regulations have failed
to catch up with this new reality and now risk reducing choice
The ruling is seen having a chilling effect on Uber drivers
in Hong Kong, experts said.
"The court's ruling today is likely to have a short-term
deterrence effect on Uber drivers in Hong Kong, as we have seen
recently in Taiwan," said Mimi Zou, a law professor with the
Chinese University of Hong Kong, without elaborating on its
"Hong Kong is one of the rare cases in jurisdictions around
the world where the drivers have taken on this criminal
liability instead of civil claims," she said.
The Hong Kong police told Reuters it attached great
importance to illegal car-hiring cases, and would continue to
take action to enforce the law.
Uber told Reuters over 1 million people in the city of 7.3
million have downloaded the app, while tens of thousands have
registered as drivers.
The company has had a bumpy ride in Asia after facing
similar legal scrutiny as well as fierce local competition in a
number of markets.
It sold its China business to local rival Didi Chuxing in
August 2016 after an intense two-year battle when Uber was
estimated to have lost $2 billion.
In Korea and Japan, where private car-hailing is banned,
Uber had to adjust its business models and relinquish
significant market opportunities.
($1 = 7.7645 Hong Kong dollars)
(Reporting by Venus Wu and Sijia Jiang; Editing by James
Pomfret and Randy Fabi)