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Execs Suspend Ties With Saudi Arabia After Journalist Disappears

Richard Branson listens to speeches as he is inducted into the Flight Path Walk of Fame at Los Angeles Airport Flight Path Museum, Los Angeles, March 28, 2018.

Business leaders Richard Branson and Steve Case are the latest executives to suspend ties with Saudi Arabia, following the disappearance of a Saudi journalist in Turkey earlier this month.

Branson, head of Britain’s Virgin Group, said in a statement: “I had high hopes for the current government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and it is why I was delighted to accept two directorships in the tourism projects around the Red Sea. ... 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. We have asked for more information...”

Branson added: “… I will suspend my directorship of the two tourism projects. Virgin will also suspend its discussions with the Public Investment Fund over the proposed investment in our space companies Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.”

FILE - Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi speaks at an event hosted by Middle East Monitor in London, Sept. 29, 2018.
FILE - Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi speaks at an event hosted by Middle East Monitor in London, Sept. 29, 2018.

Last week, Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Turkey to get a document for his upcoming wedding. Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, who wrote columns that were critical of Saudi Arabia, for the The Washington Post, never came out of the consulate.

News of Khashoggi’s disappearance came as the kingdom prepared to hold an investment conference. The three-day conference is scheduled to begin Oct. 23, but a number of business executives have now pulled out.

“I was looking forward to returning to Riyadh this month to speak at the Future Investment initiative conference and participate in a Red Sea Project meeting,” Case, one of the founders of AOL, posted on Twitter. “In light of recent events, I have decided to put my plans on hold, pending further information regarding Jamal Khashoggi.”

Andrew Ross Sorkin, a CNBC anchor and New York Times business journalist, tweeted he would not attend the conference because he was “terribly distressed by the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and reports of his murder.”

The New York Times has decided it will no longer be a media sponsor of the event, according to a spokeswoman.

Editor-in-chief of The Economist, Zanny Minton Beddos, also said he will not participate in the conference.

Bob Bakish, the CEO of Viacom, Inc., was scheduled to speak at the conference, but has decided not to attend, according to a spokesman.

Former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said he has suspended his role on the board of Saudi Arabia’s planned mega business zone NEOM until more is known about what happened with the Saudi journalist. The Crown Prince said last week the NEOM business zone would build two to three towns each year starting in 2020 and be completed by 2025.