- Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says he’s “anxious” to learn about the circumstances behind the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
- Saudi Arabia has denied that its leadership had a direct hand in Khashoggi’s death.
- Saudi Arabia has a board seat at Uber and has invested at least $US3.5 billion into the company.
- Khosrowshahi said the kingdom still deserved its board seat while the public awaited the facts.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says he is “anxious” for more information about the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi and any role Saudi Arabia’s leadership may have played.
Uber is the second-most-valuable private company in the world, with a purported valuation of $US72 billion. It has taken $US3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and its biggest shareholder is SoftBank, whose Vision Fund is also backed by Saudi Arabia.
That deeply entwined relationship gives Yasir Othman al-Rumayyan – the Saudi royal adviser who is managing director of the Saudi fund – a board seat and, according to Khosrowshahi, this won’t change until more information emerges about Khashoggi’s death.
“Once we get the facts and understand exactly what happens, we will do our best to react as a company, and the company is a bunch of humans making judgments and, you know, one of our norms is we do the right thing, period,” Khosrowshahi told The Wall Street Journal‘s Tech D.Live conference on Tuesday.
“But that’s based on our judgment on what the right thing is, and this is a situation that isn’t entirely clear.”
The Uber chief added that Saudi Arabia was “a big investor in the company” and that the company had a fiduciary duty to its backers.
“They have a board seat, and so far they have been a terrific board member,” he said. “So until we learn more, we’re not in a position to act in one way or another. The act itself was horrible, and we’re anxious to learn more and then we’ll talk to our board and then we’ll decide what the best way forward.”
Uber reportedly intends to go public in the first half of 2019, something Khosrowshahi said would help solve the Saudi problem. “At that point, anyone is free to be a shareholder one way or the other, and we enter into public land,” he said.
Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest funders of Silicon Valley startups, either through the Public Investment Fund or through SoftBank’s Vision Fund. Saudi money accounts for almost half of the Vision Fund. Apart from Uber, there’s Vision Fund money in WeWork and Slack, all prominent firms on the brink of going public, as well as a scattering of smaller firms.
These companies must decide how that financial relationship continues. A key question is whether Saudi Arabia’s leadership ordered the killing of Khashoggi, a critic of the government. Saudi Arabia has sought to distance the killing from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler.
Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2. The Turkish government has said Saudi agents working on behalf of the government killed and dismembered him; his remains have not been recovered. Saudi Arabia has acknowledged his death, including evidence of premeditation, but denied that its top leaders had a hand in his killing.
Khosrowshahi, along with several other tech leaders, pulled out of a major investment conference hosted by the kingdom a fortnight after Khashoggi’s death.
“When I pulled out of the conference, we didn’t follow the herd on that – we were quite early there,” Khosrowshahi told The Wall Street Journal. “We didn’t know the facts, but we thought that it was inappropriate for us to go at that point based on what had happened. Now we’re in a situation where we can wait to get the facts.”