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Uber executive’s lawyers warn he could face criminal charges

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

An Uber executive accused of stealing driverless car technology from his former employers at Google is exercising his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination, according to his lawyers.

The lawyers for Anthony Levandowski, the former head of Google's self-driving car project who is now leading a similar effort at Uber, said he was broadly asserting his Fifth Amendment rights because there was "potential for criminal action" in the case, according to court transcripts released Thursday.

The legal maneuver adds even more intrigue to the high-profile fight between two of the technology industry's largest companies, which are squaring off in the race to put driverless cars on the road.

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Mr. Levandowski is at the center of the lawsuit between Uber and Waymo, which was spun out from Google to become its own Alphabet subsidiary. Waymo has accused Mr. Levandowski of stealing documents and poaching employees before quitting Google and then colluding with Uber to use that technology to advance driverless car efforts at the ride-hailing service.

Shortly after leaving Google, Mr. Levandowski started his own self-driving truck start-up, Otto. Six months after Otto was formed, Uber acquired the company for $680 million.

In the transcript of a private hearing before Judge William Alsup in United States District Court in San Francisco, Mr. Levandowski's lawyers said he was invoking his Fifth Amendment right to avoid incrimination in turning over documents relevant to the case. Uber's lawyers said they have made clear to Mr. Levandowski that he needs to release any documents relevant to the case as part of discovery.

Angela Padilla, Uber's associate general counsel, said in a statement that the company plans to publicly lay out its case on April 7. "We are very confident that Waymo's claims against Uber are baseless and that Anthony Levandowski has not used any files from Google in his work with Otto or Uber," she said.

One of Mr. Levandowski's lawyers said the Uber executive's position on invoking the Fifth Amendment may change as they examine the case.