Uber's CEO is 'anxious' for more details about murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but says Saudi Arabia still deserves a board seat
- Uber's chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi is 'anxious' to learn about the circumstances behind the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
- Saudi Arabia has denied that it had a direct hand in Khashoggi's killing.
- Saudi Arabia has a board seat at Uber and has invested at least $3.5 billion into the company.
- Khosrowshahi said the kingdom still deserves its board seat while the public awaits the facts.
Uber's chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi has said he is "anxious" for more information about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and any role Saudi Arabia may have played in the killing.
Uber is the second most valuable private company in the world, with a purported valuation of $72 billion. It has taken $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) and its biggest shareholder is SoftBank, whose Vision Fund is also backed by Saudi Arabia.
That deeply entwined relationship gives PIF's managing director and Saudi royal adviser Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan a board seat and, according to Khosrowshahi, this won't change until more information emerges about Khashoggi's demise.
Khosrowshahi told The Wall Street Journal's Tech D.Live conference on Tuesday: "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 judgements and, you know, one of our norms is we do the right thing, period.
"But that's based on our judgement on what the right thing is, and this is a situation that isn't entirely clear."
The Uber chief added that Saudi is "a big investor in the company" and the company had a fiduciary duty to its backers.
"They have a board seat and so far they've been a terrific board member. So until we learn more, we're not in a position to act in one way or another," he said. "The act itself [Khashoggi's murder] 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."
Khosrowshahi acknowledged that going public next year, which Uber reportedly intends to do in the first half of 2019, will 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 PIF 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 ordered the killing of Khashoggi, a dissident writer, something the kingdom denies. But the UK, French, and German governments have pressed the regime to give a full account of what happened.
What is known is that Khashoggi walked into the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2, where he was brutally killed. According to the Turkish government, Saudi agents working on behalf of the government were responsible. Saudi Arabia acknowledged his murder, but denied that it 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 murder.
Khosrowshahi told the Wall Street Journal: "When I pulled out of the conference, we didn't follow the herd on that, we were quite early there. 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."