The chief executive of minicab-hailing firm Uber appeared to compare the murder of US journalist Jamal Khashoggi with mistakes his company made with self-driving cars which resulted in a fatal crash.
In a TV interview for the programme Axios on HBO, Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi responded to a question about Saudi Arabia’s investment in the firm by saying, “I think that government said they made a mistake”.
“It’s a serious mistake. We’ve made mistakes too, right, with self-driving. We stopped driving and we’re recovering from that mistake.
“People make mistakes. It doesn’t mean they can never be forgiven.”
In a statement given after the interview, Mr Khosrowshahi backtracked and 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.”
The question centred on Yasir al-Rumayyan, the director of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, who is a member of Uber’s board of directors.
The sovereign wealth fund is Uber’s fifth-biggest investor.
Mr Khosrowshahi was asked whether he thought Mr al-Rumayyan should stand for re-election to Uber’s board of directors, given he is the representative of a government the CIA has implicated in the murder of a US resident.
“I think he’s been a very constructive board member, Yasir has, and I personally have valued his input greatly. It’s up to him whether he wants to stand for re-election," he said.
Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, was a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia’s government and of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
He was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a hit squad of 15 Saudi nationals who travelled to Turkey on diplomatic passports.
Last month was the one-year anniversary of his death.
The UN described his death as a “deliberate, premeditated execution” for which the Saudi government bore responsibility.
The CIA investigation concluded the Crown Prince himself ordered the killing – something he has denied.
In March last year, a self-driving Uber car struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Florida.
A report found the autonomous vehicle, which also had an operator at the wheel, did not have “the capability to classify an object as a pedestrian unless that object was near a crosswalk,” and as a result did not allow enough braking time before the vehicle struck 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she wheeled her bicycle across a road.