Uber Ceo Calls Saudi Role in Jamal Khashoggi Murder a 'Mistake,' But It 'Doesn't Mean They Can Never Be Forgiven' (Video)

Dara Khosrowshahi disavows the comments in follow-up statement

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.

16 Hollywood and Media Deals With Saudi Arabia – and Where They Now Stand (Gallery)

  • A growing number of Hollywood and U.S. media companies have backed out of business deals with Saudi Arabia and the crown prince, known by his initials MBS, after Turkish officials concluded that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi operatives inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

    Here is a list of Hollywood and media deals with Saudi Arabia — and where they stand now.

  • Richard Branson

    British entrepreneur Richard Branson announced he would step down as chairman of Virgin Hyperloop, a planned supersonic transport system in the United Arab Emirates and other countries, CNBC reported.

  • The Harbour Group

    Leading D.C. lobbying firm representing the Saudi government’s interests, the Harbour Group, announced on Oct. 11 it was terminating its $80,000-a-month contract with the kingdom.

  • Endeavor

    WME parent company Endeavor, one of Hollywood’s top talent agencies, said on Oct. 15 it was preparing to withdraw from its $400 million financing deal with the Saudi Arabian government.

  • Gerard Butler 

    Actor Gerard Butler pulled out of a trip to Saudi Arabia to promote his new movie “Hunter Killer” following  Khashoggi’s disappearance.

  • ‘Davos in the Desert’

    The New York Times, Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC, The Financial Times, Nikkei, The Los Angeles Times, Fox Business Channel, Viacom and The Economist are among the names that have withdrawn their sponsorship or canceled their appearances from the high-powered Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” to be hosted by the Crown Prince and the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund in late October.

  • Uber

    CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he was “troubled by the reports” and would not attend the conference “unless a substantially different set of facts emerges.”

  • AMC

    The movie theater chain has plans to open 40 theaters in the kingdom within the next five years, with the aim to reach 100 locations by 2030.

    AMC declined to comment when reached by TheWrap.

  • Penske Media Corp. 

    In February, Penske, which owns Hollywood trades Variety and Deadline, among other publications, received a $200 million investment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The company declined to comment about whether it will reassess the investment.

  • World Wrestling Entertainment 

    WWE, which is due to return to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 2 for its “Crown Jewel” wrestling event, told TheWrap in statement that it’s “currently monitoring the situation.” An insider also told TheWrap WWE talent have been instructed to promote the event — but not its location — for two weeks now.

  • IMAX 

    Plans for IMAX to build more movie theaters in the kingdom, which have been mired in red tape, will likely be put on “pause” following Khashoggi’s disappearance, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who spoke with TheWrap.

  • Vox Cinemas

    This Dubai-based movie theater chain — not to be confused with media outlet Vox — often received revenue from rich Saudis who traveled to Dubai on weekends while KSA’s cinema ban was in effect. They, along with AMC, got the inside track on negotiations to build cineplexes in the country and are currently the only two chains with the license from the government to do so. Vox declined to comment.

  • Feld Entertainment

    The company told TheWrap it had not signed any deals with the Saudis to bring international events, including “Disney on Ice,” “Disney Live,” “Marvel Experience” and “Monster Jam” to the kingdom, but that it was “still in conversation” with the kingdom. The company did not wish to comment further.

  • iPic

    In March, the Florida-based luxury movie theater chain had announced it had partnered with Saudi firm BAS Global Investments Co. to develop cinemas and restaurants throughout the kingdom. An iPic rep told TheWrap Wednesday that it had “no further updates” on the deal.

  • Nat Geo 

    In April, National Geographic announced it was partnering with the General Entertainment Authority of Saudi Arabia to develop and launch several locations for its walk-through virtual-reality zoo.

    Reps for Nat Geo told TheWrap they “don’t have an answer yet” on whether the partnership will continue.

  • Cirque du Soleil

    The iconic live entertainment brand had its first performance in Saudi Arabia on Sept. 23, just before Khashoggi went missing. It is unclear whether the company has any more performances planned in Saudi Arabia. Reps for the company did not respond to a request for comment from TheWrap.

  • IMG Artists

    The performing arts, social media, and festival and events management company signed a letter of intent to bring large-scale festivals to the kingdom.

    A rep for IMG told TheWrap that the deal went “stale” shortly after it was signed, following “changes” in the monarchy’s 2030 Vision campaign.

Death of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi threatens kingdom’s modernization plans

A growing number of Hollywood and U.S. media companies have backed out of business deals with Saudi Arabia and the crown prince, known by his initials MBS, after Turkish officials concluded that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi operatives inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

Here is a list of Hollywood and media deals with Saudi Arabia — and where they stand now.

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