In an interview with Axios that aired Sunday on HBO, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi appeared to downplay the Saudi government’s role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, calling it “a mistake,” but adding that “it doesn’t mean they can never be forgiven.”
However, in a written statement sent to Axios after the interview, Khosrowshahi disavowed his remarks, and said that Khashoggi’s “reprehensible” murder “should not be forgotten.”
Watch the interview, which includes Khosrowshahi’s follow-up statement, above.
The remarks came during a discussion with Axios co-founder Mike Allen about Uber’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, one of the company’s largest investors. Allen noted that Uber pulled out of a 2018 Saudi conference shortly after Khashoggi’s death, and that it didn’t attend this year’s conference either. Khosrowshahi said the 2019 event was skipped because “we had a board meeting,” and that lingering fallout from Khashoggi’s death didn’t play a role in the decision.
Allen then asked if Yasir bin Othman Al-Rumayyan, head of the country’s Public Investment Fund, should be allowed to remain on Uber’s board. Khosrowshahi called Al-Rumayyan a “very constructive” board member whose input has been valuable.
The conversation then turned to the Saudi government’s role in Khashoggi’s murder. “I think that the government said they made a mistake… It’s a serious mistake — we’ve made mistakes,” Khosrowshahi said.
As one example of a mistake Uber has made, he noted the failure of its self-driving cars initiative. “We stopped [self] driving and we’re recovering from that mistake. So I think that people make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that they can never be forgiven,” Khosrowshahi continued.
Allen pointed out the CIA conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the hit on Khashoggi, who was murdered and dismembered by Saudi agents in the country’s Istanbul consulate. “I didn’t read that part of the CIA report,” Khosrowshahi replied.
The clip concludes with Uber CEO saying that the Saudi government is like any other company that can buy Uber shares. “They’re a big investor, they’re just like, you could be a big investor as well,” he told Allen.
A title card, displayed after the clip ended, said that Khosrowshahi emailed a statement Axios the day after the interview was taped. “I said something in the moment that I do not believe,” the statement said. “When it comes to Jamal Khashoggi, his murder was reprehensible and should not be forgotten or excused.”
Representatives for Uber did not immediately respond to a request for further comment from TheWrap.