France was right to arrest and fine local Uber executives, according to a top European legal adviser

A top European legal adviser has said Uber ran an illegal service in France, and that the country was right to arrest and fine the company’s top local executives.

Uber played down the non-binding opinion from an advocate general at the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), saying it applied only to a service using unlicensed drivers known as UberPOP, which it had already discontinued in France.

Judges will make a final ruling later this year. But they generally follow the advice of their advocates general and the opinion comes two months after another opinion, which rejected Uber’s argument that it was only a digital platform and so subject to less regulation than a transport firm.

A French court in Lille brought criminal proceedings against Uber France over its UberPop service, which matches drivers and passengers. French law sets restrictions on the use of software to find passengers in the street. Two Uber execs were arrested in 2015, and subsequently fined.

Uber had argued that it was not a taxi company and that the criminal fines imposed on its two French managers were not valid. It said the specific French law which limits digital services needed prior approval from Brussels. But the advocate general disagreed.

Advocate General Maciej Szpunar, who also provided the opinion in the Spanish case in May, disagreed and upheld the French judiciary’s right to bring criminal charges on the grounds that Uber was, in fact, a transport operator.

“Member states may prohibit and punish, as a matter of criminal law, the illegal exercise of transport activities in the context of the UberPOP service, without notifying the Commission of the draft law in advance,” he said in statement.

Uber said it now only operates in France with licensed cab drivers, as it does in many of its main European markets.

The European court battles come as Uber struggles with last month’s departure of its co-founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick following a string of scandals that have battered one of the global stars of the US tech industry.