Hong Kong police officers posed as passengers in sting operation on Uber drivers, court hears
The cases of two men who were among 23 drivers arrested during an undercover exercise last year were heard in court on Monday
A Hong Kong court on Monday ruled that two Uber drivers have a case to answer over allegations of carrying passengers without the necessary hire-car permits.
The two men are among 23 individuals standing trial after they pleaded not guilty last December to one count of driving a motor vehicle for the carriage of passengers for hire or reward.
They were caught after police officers went undercover as passengers and hired cars via the Uber app, the Kowloon City Court heard on Monday, the first day of the trial.
Among those who answered booking requests made on April 28 last year were Yuong Ho-cheung, aged 39 and self-employed, and Yip Wai-ming, a 32-year-old restaurant manager.
Public prosecutor Marcus Lee Cheuk-wing said Yuong drove an officer from Kowloon Tong MTR Station to Nam Cheong Estate in an UberX for a fare of HK$56.64, while Yip drove another officer from Cheung Sha Wan to Baptist Hospital in an Uber Black for a fare of HK$173.68.
Both cars were coincidentally stopped by traffic police officers, who were unaware of the sting operation.
The one who pulled Yuong over told him to stop playing with his phone while the one who intercepted Yip’s car told the passenger to wear a seat belt.
The undercover officer riding with Yip claimed he only just removed his seat belt when the car was pulled over.
Statements from the undercover officers in both cars included their brief exchanges with the drivers, such as Yuong’s alleged comment that it would be cheaper to travel by Uber since taxi fares had gone up.
Magistrate Joseph To Ho-shing ruled there was a case to answer for Yuong and Yip.
But they both opted not to give evidence nor call witnesses in their favour. The remaining individuals facing trial – 20 men and one woman – will appear in court in the coming days.
Both the prosecution and defence will make their closing submissions on May 28.
Under Hong Kong law, using a car for hire without a permit is a criminal offence under the Road Traffic Ordinance.
The offence is punishable by a HK$5,000 fine and three months’ imprisonment on first conviction, and HK$10,000 and six months’ imprisonment on subsequent convictions.
Last March, five drivers were found guilty of driving without hire-car permits and third-party insurance in a landmark trial that concluded there was no significant difference between the acts of these Uber drivers and that of pak pai, or pirate taxi drivers, which the Road Traffic Ordinance sought to regulate from 1977.