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Uber stuck between a rock and a hard place with Saudi investment

CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says his company isn't changing anything in terms of its relationship with Saudi Arabia until more is known about the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

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Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, pictured during a September event, spoke Tuesday at the Wall Street Journal D.Live tech conference in Laguna Beach, Calif. 

James Martin/CNET

Uber is taking a wait and see approach when it comes to Saudi Arabia, its CEO said Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia is a major investor in Uber and also has invested in the company through its partnership with SoftBank. And one of Uber's board members is Yasir Al Rumayyan, the managing director of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund.

While Uber and Saudi Arabia have close ties, the relationship has been facing scrutiny following the death of a Washington Post columnist critical of the Saudi regime. 

Dara Khosrowshahi, speaking Tuesday at the Wall Street Journal D.Live tech conference in Laguna Beach, Calif., noted that "it's a sensitive situation" and that Uber is waiting to see what investigations uncover. 

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"Once we get the facts and understand exactly what happened, we'll do our best to react as a company," Khosrowshahi said. 

Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi dissident and critic of the Saudi government, last month disappeared and died after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Turkey said the Washington Post columnist, who was critical of the Saudi crown prince, was strangled and dismembered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 by a 15-member assassination squad, as noted by CNET parent company CBS. Saudi Arabia ultimately said its agents strangled Khashoggi during a fight inside the consulate. 

But many people, including some US lawmakers, believe Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had some role in ordering the murder.

Khashoggi's death has brought scrutiny on US companies' ties with the crown prince and has raised questions about the country's dealings. 

Uber pulled out of a recent Saudi Arabian conference, which Khosrowshahi on Tuesday said was the right thing to do at the time. 

"We didn't know the facts, but we thought it was inappropriate to go at that point," he said. 

But Khosrowshahi said that "now we're in a situation where we can wait to get the facts." He added that Uber's focus is "we do the right thing, period" and once it knows what really happened, it will then decide how to react. 

"Until we learn more, we're not in a position to act one way or another," Khosrowshahi said. "The act was horrible. We're anxious to learn more."

Founded in San Francisco in 2009, Uber has steadily grown over the years to expand its footprint. It now serves 15 million rides or food deliveries per day and is in about 70 countries. And Uber is the highest valued venture backed private company in the world, with a valuation of $72 billion.

Khosrowshahi came on as Uber's CEO in August 2017. He arrived at the company after a slew of scandals led to the ouster of Uber co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick. Throughout much of 2017, the company was beleaguered by a #DeleteUber movement, workplace sexual harassment allegations, an internal investigation led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder and more.

CNET's Dara Kerr contributed to this report.

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