Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said in an interview with Axios that the murder of the journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia was a “serious mistake,” before comparing the incident to the death caused by Uber’s self-driving car and adding that “people make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that they can never be forgiven.”
Khosrowshahi later backtracked, telling Axios after the interview had ended that he had misspoken. “I said something in the moment that I do not believe,” said the CEO in a statement. “When it comes to Jamal Khashoggi, his murder was reprehensible and should not be forgotten or excused.”
Khosrowshahi was being questioned over his company’s continuing relationship with the government of Saudi Arabia, which the CIA concluded last year ordered the killing of Khashoggi, who fled the country in 2017 after writing articles critical of the government.
Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is the fifth-largest shareholder in Uber, and the head of the wealth fund, Yasir bin Othman Al-Rumayyan, is a member of Uber’s board. In the interview Khosrowshahi praised Al-Rumayyan as a “very constructive board member” and said he valued his input “greatly.”
Following the death of Khashoggi in 2018, Uber was one of a number of companies who pulled out of Saudi Arabia’s annual investment conference in protest. The move was controversial in the Persian Gulf, with a government minister in Bahrain, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, calling on citizens to delete Uber and “boycott anyone who boycotts Saudi Arabia.”
Khosrowshahi did not attend this year’s Saudi investment conference either, but claimed in the interview with Axios that this was due to a scheduling conflict, not any ethical stance. When asked if he would have attended the conference if he hadn’t had a meeting Khosrowshahi was non-committal, saying he “didn’t know.”
Update November 11, 08:55AM ET: Story updated with Khosrowshahi’s tweet.