In an Axios interview that aired Sunday night on HBO, Dara Khosrowshahi appeared to dismiss the horror of the 2018 killing, which the U.S. intelligence community concluded was carried out at the behest of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“I think that the government said that they made a mistake,” Khosrowshahi said. “Listen, it’s a serious mistake. We’ve made mistakes too, right?”
The Uber executive then suggested that the deliberate asphyxiation and dismemberment of Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul was somehow tantamount to a technical glitch with Uber’s self-driving cars, which tragically led to the death of an Arizona pedestrian last year.
He backtracked publicly on Monday, tweeting that he’d “said something in the moment I don’t believe.”
But Khosrowshahi’s comments had already sparked criticism of his company on Twitter, where #BoycottUber began trending.
Khashoggi’s former editor at the Post, Karen Attiah, tweeted that she has deleted Uber’s app from her phone and posted a rebuke of Khosrowshahi’s remarks. “When you’re rich, your crimes become ‘mistakes,’” she wrote, calling the use of that word “absurd.”
Khosrowshahi’s comments came in response to questions over Yasir Al-Rumayyan’s seat on the board of Uber. Al-Rumayyan is the head of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and a confidant of the crown prince’s. The Saudi kingdom is Uber’s fifth-largest shareholder.
The Uber chief implied there should be no issue with the makeup of his company’s board and its shareholders, stating that “people make mistakes and it doesn’t mean that they can never be forgiven.”
“I think they’ve taken it seriously,” he added.
In Monday’s attempt to clean up his remarks, Khosrowshahi tweeted, “Our investors have long known my views here & I’m sorry I wasn’t as clear on Axios.”
Uber has faced boycotts in the past over its treatment of its own drivers and its 2017 decision to turn off surge pricing when taxi drivers went on strike at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, which some saw as an effort to undermine the protest against President Donald Trump’s travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries.