Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson said he is suspending discussions with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which last year signed a memorandum of understanding to invest $1 billion in Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.
Branson announced the decision amidst growing international concern over the fate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey. There are unconfimed reports that Saudi security officials murdered the dissident writer.
Branson also suspended his directorships in two Saudi tourism projects to be built around the Red Sea.
Branson’s full statement is below.
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. I felt that I could give practical development advice and also help protect the precious environment around the coastline and islands.
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 from the authorities in Saudi and 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.