Richard Branson suspended talks with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund over its planned $1 billion investment in Virgin Group’s space companies following the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Washington Post columnist Khashoggi was last seen entering the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, triggering an allegation by Turkish officials that he may have been murdered there. Saudi officials say Khashoggi left the building unharmed on the same day.
“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 in an Oct. 11 statement posted on the Virgin website.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund said last year it planned to invest in Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Co. and Virgin Orbit. Branson said at the time he was “delighted to welcome the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as our new partners.”
Branson said Virgin has asked the authorities in Saudi to clarify their position in relation to Khashoggi. With the investigation ongoing and the journalist’s location unknown, the Virgin founder said he’ll also suspend his directorships of two tourism projects around the Red Sea.
President Donald Trump has said the U.S. is investigating Khashoggi’s case and lawmakers have threatened to take action against Saudi Arabia.
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