Richard Branson is temporarily cutting ties with the Saudi government over its role in the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate general in Istanbul on October 2. The billionaire and founder of the Virgin Business Empire revealed this in a statement.
‘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 the statement.
Branson said he has asked Saudi authorities ‘to clarify their position in relation to Mr. Khashoggi.’
‘While those investigations are ongoing and Mr. Khashoggi’s presence is not known, I will suspend my directorships 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,’ he said.
Branson’s move comes as international pressure mounts on Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist, contributor to the Washington Post and critic of the Saudi regime.
Turkish officials privately believe he was killed at the consulate, an allegation denied by Saudi Arabia.
The United States has intercepts of Saudi officials discussing a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him, according to a US official familiar with the intelligence.
Khashoggi’s disappearance has prompted media companies to reconsider their association with a high-profile business conference in Saudi Arabia scheduled for later this month. The conference, hosted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is part of his Vision 2030 plan to break the country’s dependence on oil.
The fallout from the mystery of Khashoggi’s disappearance continues to hit the Saudi government as more key figures pull out from attending the planned conference.