Uber’s chief executive has backtracked after saying the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents had been a “mistake”.
Dara Khosrowshahi also compared the death of the Washington Post columnist in October 2018 to a fatal incident with a self-driving car at Uber.
Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund PFI bought a five per cent stake in Uber in 2016 worth $3.5bn (£27.2bn). Its chairman also sits on Uber’s board.
“I think that Government [Saudi Arabia] said that they made a mistake,” Khosrowshahi told Axios on HBO when asked about the killing.
Challenged by the reporter on his response, he added: “Well listen it’s a serious mistake – we’ve made mistakes too, right, with self-driving and we stopped driving and we’re recovering from that mistake.
“So I think that people can make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that they can never be forgiven, I think they’ve taken it seriously…”
He said the Saudi government was “just like any other shareholder” in the car hire company.
“Now we’re a public company anyone can invest in our company if they choose to do so and they are a big investor,” he added.
Axios said Khosrowshahi emailed the day after the interview, which was published on Youtube on Sunday, to clarify his comments.
“I said something in the moment that I do not believe,” he said. “When it comes to Jamal Khashoggi, his murder was reprehensible and should not be forgotten or excused.”
Khashoggi, a former royal insider who became a vocal critic of the Saudi regime, is believed to have been suffocated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, before his body was dismembered.
He had gone in to finalise divorce papers while his new fiancée waited outside. More than a year later and his body has still not been found.
Saudi Arabia initially denied Khashoggi had been killed, but later blamed rogue agents for his death. The kingdom has charged 11 men over the murder with trials being held behind closed doors.
A UN report into the journalist’s killing by special rapporteur Agnes Callamard, published in June, said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman should face further investigation over the murder.
It said there is “credible evidence, warranting further investigation” that he and other high-level Saudi officials may be liable.
Saudi Arabia has denied prior knowledge of Khashoggi’s murder.