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Uber CEO walks back comment on Saudi writer’s slaying

by Ace Damon
Dara Khosrowshahi

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Cathy Bussewitz, Associated Press

Tuesday, November 12, 2019 1:31 PM

NEW YORK – Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is being criticized for considering the murder of a Washington Post columnist a "mistake" and comparing it to the death of a pedestrian hit by one of the company's standalone vehicles.

Khosrowshahi later said he regretted his comments, made during an interview with Axios on HBO. He tweeted on Monday that there is no way to forgive or forget what happened to journalist Jamal Khashoggi and that he was wrong to consider it a mistake.

Critics say Khosrowshahi is downplaying Khashoggi's terrible murder to placate one of the company's biggest investors.

Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, known as The Public Investment Fund, owns about $ 1.9 billion in Uber shares, making it Uber's fifth largest shareholder. Its director, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, is on the board of Uber.

US and UN officials suspect Saudi Arabian prince Mohammed bin Salman played an important role in Khashoggi's murder. Prince Mohammed said he took full responsibility but denied the order of the murder, calling the murder "a mistake" in a September interview.

In an interview with Axios on Sunday, Khosrowshahi repeated these comments, saying, "I think the government said it made a mistake." He then compared Khashoggi's killing to an accident in which one of Uber's autonomous vehicles hit and killed a pedestrian last year. in arizona.

“It's a serious mistake. We also made mistakes while driving, and we stopped driving and we are recovering from that mistake, ”said Khosrowshahi. “So I think people make mistakes, that doesn't mean they can never be forgiven. I think they took it seriously.

Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by Saudi intelligence officials and a forensic doctor last year at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He was a longtime editor at Saudi Arabia's state-linked newspapers and had exiled himself in the US while writing critically about Saudi leadership.

A UN investigator said the Saudi journalist was the victim of "a planned, organized, well-resourced and premeditated extrajudicial murder for which the state of Saudi Arabia must take responsibility."

In his tweet on Monday, Khosrowshahi said he told Axios after the interview: “I said something at the moment I don't believe it. Our investors have long known my opinions here and I am sorry that I was not so clear about Axios. "

However, #BoycottUber started the trend on Monday on Twitter, recalling the #DeleteUber movement that gained traction years ago as the company struggled with image issues and lost customers to rival Lyft.

In making his remarks, Khosrowshahi showed poor judgment as a leader, said Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communications at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business.

"If I were a board member, I'd really be asking myself about this guy," Argenti said. “Uber has enough problems without him. This is just another nail in the coffin.

Perhaps it was the first public relations disaster Khosrowshahi caused himself after joining Uber as CEO to transform a company that was plagued by self-inflicted wounds.

Khosrowshahi was largely out of the spotlight, unlike Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick, who was dismissed as CEO in 2017 after revelations about rampant internal sexual harassment, accusations that drivers had assaulted passengers and a cover-up. of a computer invasion. who stole personal information about their passengers, among other issues.

But especially in markets where there are few alternatives to Uber, consumers are unlikely to abandon the service because of Khosrowshahi's observations, said Rosalind Chow, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University.

"People have very short memories," she said.

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