Famed British billionaire Richard Branson announced he is suspending his recent business dealings with Saudi Arabia after the disappearance of a prominent Saudi journalist.
Pressure has mounted on Saudi Arabia since Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi policies, went missing. He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on 2 October. Turkish officials have said Khashoggi was murdered inside the consulate.
Khashoggi is a US resident who wrote columns for the Washington Post, owned by Amazon.com (AMZN) founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos.
Branson said on Thursday he was suspending talks with Saudi Arabia’s massive sovereign investment fund over a potential investment in his space companies Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit. The fund had been considering a $1bn investment.
He was also suspending his work with Saudi Arabia on two tourism projects by the Red Sea.
“I had high hopes for the current government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” he said.
“What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the west to do business with the Saudi government,” Branson said. “We have asked for more information from the authorities in Saudi and to clarify their position in relation to Mr Khashoggi.”
Deserting ‘Davos in the desert’?
Saudi Arabia’s upcoming three-day conference known as “Davos in the desert” is also facing a backlash because of growing outrage over the disappearance. Attendees and sponsors have been backing out of the Saudi event.
Andrew Ross Sorkin, a CNBC anchor and New York Times business journalist, tweeted that he was not attending the conference, saying he was “terribly distressed by the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and reports of his murder.”
The New York Times (NYT) pulled out of the event as a media sponsor, spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said.
Viacom (VIA) CEO Bob Bakish, who was slated to speak at the conference, decided to not attend the event, company spokesman Justin Dini said.