Sir Richard Branson, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim and Uber chief Dara Khosrowshahi are among a growing number of executives to distance themselves from Saudi Arabia’s business ventures amid outrage over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Sir Richard has halted discussions with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund about a planned $1bn investment in Virgin’s space companies, while Mr Kim and Mr Khosrowshahi led a lengthening list of international figures pulling out of a high-profile Saudi conference later this month.
Saudi officials maintain that Mr Khashoggi went missing after leaving the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, but Turkish officials are investigating whether he was killed in the building. Foreign governments are stepping up their demands for answers about what happened to the journalist. Several speakers and sponsors have pulled out of the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, which was organised by the Saudi Public Investment Fund and is closely associated with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. A World Bank official said on Friday: “President Kim has previously informed the Saudi authorities that he will not be attending the Future Investment Initiative.” Mr Kim had been listed as a “confirmed speaker” on the FII’s website until Friday, when the page of speakers disappeared from the site.
The World Bank would not comment on whether Mr Kim had decided to withdraw from the event before or after Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance on October 2. Andy Rubin, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur best known for creating the Android smartphone operating system, has also withdrawn from the conference, along with Viacom’s Robert Bakish and Steve Case, former head of AOL.