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Uber execs on trial in France face jail time, heavy fines

The trial of two Uber executives kicked off in France on Wednesday, the latest front in the fierce battle between the popular ride hailing service and the taxi industry there. But the judge in the case quickly decied to delay further proceedings until mid-February.

Uber France chief Thibaud Simphal and Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, general manager for Western Europe, could be sent to prison for up to five years and fined as much as 300,000 euros if found guilty of deceptive commercial practices and other charges. After some initial skirmishing by lawyers on the case, Judge Cecile Louis-Loyant said a five-month delay was needed to give prosecutors time to provide documents and computer files requested by Uber, Reuters reported.

The rapidly expanding ride hailing service has run into numerous obstacles and widespread opposition from taxi companies around the world. Uber has been banned in Belgium, Spain and some parts of India among other regions. Valued at $60 billion by its venture capital investors, Uber's services match drivers and riders in hundreds of cities worldwide via mobile phone apps. But taxi owners say Uber, which isn't subject to the same regulations in many cities, poses unfair competition.

The regulatory crackdown against Uber in France is just one of many investigations of U.S. technology and Internet companies being conducted by government authorities in Europe. Google (GOOGL) faces a widening antitrust investigation while Amazon (AMZN), Facebook (FB) and other American companies are also being scrutinized.

French taxi drivers took to the streets this summer, smashing cars and setting tires on fire, as part of widespread protests against Uber. They also lobbied for a 2014 law which outlawed non-professional drivers from carrying passengers for profit -- the exact business model of Uber's lowest cost Uber Pop service in France. The country's highest court upheld the law last week.

The two Uber executives were arrested in June and charged with running an illegal taxi service and other violations. While Uber Pop has shut down, Uber's main service, which relies on professional drivers, remains in business.

Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Correction: The maximum jail time the two Uber executives face is five years. An earlier version of this story said the maximum was two years.)