In an interview for the Axios HBO show, released Monday morning, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi seemed to downplay last year’s death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The CIA concluded that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s assassination.
“It’s a serious mistake,” Khosrowshahi said. “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’ve taken it seriously.”
Within hours—and before Axios published the comments—Khosrowshahi walked them back.
“I said something in the moment that I do not believe,” he said in a statement to Axios. “When it comes to Jamal Khashoggi, his murder was reprehensible and should not be forgotten or excused.”
Axios’s Dan Primack asked Khosrowshahi about the issue because Saudi Arabia’s government is one of Uber’s biggest shareholders. Yasir Al-Rumayyan, an official from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, sits on Uber’s board.
When Axios asked if Al-Rumayyan should seek re-election to Uber’s board, Khosrowshahi responded that he “has been a very constructive board member. I personally have valued his input greatly.”
When Primack pointed out the CIA’s findings—that far from being a mere “mistake,” Salman had ordered Khashoggi’s murder—Khosrowshahi said that he “didn’t read that part of the CIA report.”
“They’re just like any other shareholder,” Khosrowshahi said. “Now we’re a public company. Anyone can invest in our company if they choose to do so.”
An hour later, Khosrowshahi “called Axios to express regret for the language he used.”