Uber’s CEO wants to ‘get the facts’ on Khashoggi killing

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says he’s waiting for more information about the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi before taking any action over the Saudi government’s significant investment in the startup.

Khosrowshahi was one of the first major CEOs to pull out of a high-profile Saudi business conference last month as the international outcry grew over the kingdom’s role in the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi government.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is a significant investor in Uber after putting $3.5 billion into the ride-hailing company in 2016. The fund’s managing director, Yasir Al Rumayyan, sits on Uber’s board.

Khosrowshahi is now trying to figure out how to respond to the widespread outrage over the Saudi government’s apparent connections to the killing of Khashoggi in the country’s consulate in Istanbul last month.

“Until we learn more, we’re not in a position to act one way or the other,” he said Tuesday at the Wall Street Journal D.Live conference in California. “The act itself was horrible. And we’re anxious to learn more and then we’ll talk to our board and decide the best way forward.”

The Saudi government has repeatedly changed its story about Khashoggi’s death, initially denying any knowledge of it before claiming that a group of rogue Saudi operatives were responsible for the killing.

US officials have speculated that the Saudi operatives’ mission, which included 15 men sent from Riyadh, could not have been carried out without the authorization of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir apparent to the Saudi throne.

After Saudi Arabia admitted that Khashoggi was killed in its Istanbul consulate, five high-ranking officials were dismissed, including the crown prince’s media chief and the deputy head of the Saudi intelligence service. Bin Salman has described the killing publicly as “heinous.”

Khosrowshahi said Tuesday that when he pulled out of the Saudi business conference in Riyadh last month, he “didn’t know the facts” about what had happened to Khashoggi but thought it was “inappropriate to attend” at the time.

“I think now we’re in a situation where we can wait to get the facts,” he said in a conversation on stage with The Wall Street Journal’s editor-at-large, Gerard Baker.

Once Uber is able to “understand exactly what happened, we will do our best to react as a company,” he added. “One of our norms is, ‘We do the right thing, period’ — but that’s based on our judgments as to what the right thing is.”

Baker pressed Khosrowshahi: “What could you do?”

The CEO didn’t want to speculate on what his company’s options are. “That’s putting the cart before the horse,” he said.

For the time being, Khosrowshahi is maintaining good relations with Uber’s Saudi backers.

“So far, they’ve been a terrific board member,” he said.