The Uber chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, said of Saudi Arabia: ‘I think that people make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that they can never be forgiven. I think they have taken it seriously.’ Photograph: Philip Pacheco/AFP/Getty Images
The Guardian: Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive of Uber, has attempted to limit the damage after calling the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi “a mistake” similar to a fatal accident that occurred during tests of his company’s self-driving car.
Khashoggi, a Saudi national resident in the US, and a severe critic of the Saudi regime who wrote for the Washington Post, was murdered in Istanbul last year after visiting the Saudi Arabian consulate there. His body was dismembered and disposed of.
His death has been described by Agnès Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, as a “deliberate, premeditated execution” that warrants further investigation into the responsibility of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
The prince is a key US ally close to Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and chief adviser.
In an interview with Axios on HBO, broadcast on Sunday, Khosrowshahi was asked about the Uber board member Yasir al-Rumayyan, a director of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which is the company’s fifth-biggest investor.
Referring to the Saudi government and the Khashoggi killing, Khosrowshahi said: “I think that government said that they made a mistake.”
He went on: “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. I think that people make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that they can never be forgiven. I think they have taken it seriously.”
Khosrowshahi was referring to a March 2018 accident in which an Uber self-driving test car collided with a female pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.
Elaine Herzberg, 49, died after she was hit by a Volvo SUV travelling at about 40mph in autonomous mode at night. The car, a federal National Transportation Safety Board report said, did not have “the capability to classify an object as a pedestrian unless that object was near a crosswalk”.
Khashoggi visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to collect paperwork to allow him to get married. He was seized, killed and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad.
In a statement after the HBO show, Khosrowshahi said: “I said something in the moment that I do not believe. When it comes to Jamal Khashoggi, his murder was reprehensible and should not be forgotten or excused.”
After several contradictory explanations for Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh said he was killed and his body dismembered after negotiations to convince him to return to the kingdom failed. The Saudi government has described the murder as a rogue operation and said the crown prince had no prior knowledge.
Prince Mohammed links to Kushner remain a subject of fierce contention. In December 2018, the New York Times reported: “As the [Khashoggi] killing set off a firestorm around the world and American intelligence agencies concluded that it was ordered by Prince Mohammed, Mr Kushner became the prince’s most important defender inside the White House.”
Trump has declined to take action against the prince or the Saudi regime, often citing the value of US arms sales to the Gulf monarchy.
“Saudi Arabia is a big buyer of [American] product,” Trump said in June this year. “That means something to me. It’s a big producer of jobs.”