BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Lebanese taxi driver with a previous arrest for drug use has confessed to killing a British woman who worked at the British Embassy in Beirut, a senior Lebanese security official said on Monday.
A second security source said preliminary investigations into the murder of Rebecca Dykes showed the motive was purely criminal, not political. The suspect, who worked for the Uber [UBER.UL] taxi service, had immediately confessed to the crime, which took place early on Saturday, the source said.
The senior security official said the suspect was 41 years old and had been arrested on drug-related charges in the period 2015-17, which the official said might not show up on his judicial record.
The second security source said the suspect had a criminal record but gave no details.
Lebanon’s state news agency NNA identified the suspect by the first name Tariq and the initial H, and said he had picked Dykes up in his taxi in Beirut’s Gemmayzeh district on Friday evening before assaulting and killing her.
Uber declined to confirm the suspect’s name or how long he had been driving for the service.
The incident was the latest to highlight the issue of safety at Uber in various countries around the world.
“We are horrified by this senseless act of violence. Our hearts are with the victim and her family,” said Uber spokesman Harry Porter. “We are working with authorities to assist their investigation in any way we can.”
Porter said the company uses commercially licensed taxi drivers in Lebanon, and the government carries out background checks and grants licenses.
Only drivers that have clean background checks and clean judicial records are licensed, he said. The suspect’s background check did not show any convictions, or he would not have been licensed, Porter said.
Police traced the suspect’s car through highway surveillance cameras, they said. Police only said they had arrested a suspect and that it was not a political crime.
Dykes, who was strangled, was found by a main highway outside Beirut, a security source said on Sunday. She worked at the British Embassy for the Department for International Development.
“The whole embassy is deeply shocked, saddened by this news,” Britain’s ambassador to Lebanon, Hugo Shorter, said on Sunday.
“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Rebecca,” Dykes’ family said in a statement. We are doing all we can to understand what happened.”
In September, San Francisco-based Uber was stripped of its operating licence in London over concerns about its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers.
In India, the company was sued twice by a woman who was raped in 2014 by an Uber driver, first for failing to maintain basic safety procedures and again alleging executives improperly obtained her medical records. The Uber driver was convicted of the rape and sentenced in 2015 to life in prison. Uber settled the first lawsuit and has agreed to settle the second.
In Brazil, a company policy of accepting cash payments for rides made drivers the target of robbery and murder. Following a Reuters investigation, Uber in February rolled out new safety requirements, including requiring new cash users to register with a social security number.
And in Houston, Texas, a 2016 city investigation found that Uber’s background checks were so insufficient the company cleared drivers with criminal histories including murder, assault and 17 other crimes.
Uber is facing a host of problems, including allegations of sexual harassment, data privacy violations and a lawsuit and criminal investigation over alleged trade-secrets theft. New Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi, who replaced co-founder Travis Kalanick in August, has been critical of past practices and vowed a new era of compliance.
The company is in the midst of a stock sale in which Softbank Group will take a stake in the company ahead of an anticipated 2019 initial public offering.
Reporting by Laila Bassam, Angus McDowall and Ellen Francis in Beirut, Costas Pitas in London and Heather Somerville in San Francisco; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Jonathan Oatis