The spotlight is now squarely positioned on the already controversial Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the mystery surrounding journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s recent disappearance unfolds. That scrutiny now threatens to fray foreign business ties with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which is closely associated with Salman.
A Saudi national and legal resident of the United States, Khashoggi disappeared after he was seen entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials now claim they have evidence that the Washington Post reporter, who has been critical of Salman, was tortured and murdered in the consulate building by a Saudi hit squad.
While Saudi officials contend that Khashoggi went missing after exiting the building, the incident smells bad enough for some foreign executives to distance themselves from business ties to the Gulf country.
The list of people who are preparing to head for the exits now includes Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, and Uber chief executive Dara Khasrowshahi, according to a report in The Financial Times on Friday.
Branson has halted discussions with the Saudi Public Investment Fund (SPIF), while both Kim and Khosrowshahi have canceled trips to attend the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, organized by the fund. Other speakers and sponsors, including Android operating system creator Andy Rubin and Viacom’s Robert Bakish, have also reportedly pulled out of the event.
The New York Times, The Financial Times and CNBC cut their media ties with the event, which has been dubbed the “Davos in the Desert.”
The situation will pose a challenge for investors such as SoftBank, depending on what is discovered about Khashoggi’s fate, as they have extensive ties to the Saudi sovereign wealth fund. SPIF is the biggest investor in SoftBank’s Vision Fund. Uber has raised billions of dollars from both SPIF and SoftBank