Saudi Investment of $1 Billion Halted by Virgin’s Branson
While investment decisions are taken after a careful analysis of future returns, due to change in circumstances those same decisions are paused or, in some extreme cases, reverted.
A decision of such a sort has been made by Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group. According to reports which surfaced earlier last week, an investment amounting to a whopping $1 billion to be made by the Public Investment Fund situated in Saudi Arabia in the space ventures being undertaken by the company was put to a halt.
The reason behind this decision to pause the Saudi investment comes amid the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist, after he was last seen on the 2nd of October entering the consulate of Saudi Arabia located in Istanbul, Turkey.
Investigation into Jamal Khashoggi’s Disappearance
While matters pertaining to the actual incident remain a mystery, it has been speculated that the famed journalist, who has written extensively for the Washington Post, may have lost his life inside the country’s consulate located in Istanbul. Furthermore, it is also being speculated that the Saudi government may have been involved in the incident and deliberately ended Khashoggi’s life for his supposedly anti-Saudi views.
The motive behind his disappearance seems to lie with the Saudi government, although no conclusive evidence has been found to prove it.
Khashoggi has written extensively in criticism of the Saudi government, especially regarding the involvement of the Kingdom in the Yemen war, the diplomatic disaster which the country entered into with Canada, and the numerous arrests of activists fighting for human rights especially after the ban on women driving cars was lifted.
It is interesting to note that many of the initiatives which Khashoggi criticized were the brainchild of the Crown Prince himself, who is next in line to the throne and hence exercises surmountable power over national matters.
A team of forensic investigators from Turkey was allowed to enter the consulate on Sunday, and the investigation has reportedly been completed. However, the outcomes of this investigation have not yet been shared.
The delay in allowing the Turkish forensics to enter the Saudi consulate may have tainted much of the evidence which could’ve otherwise been collected, especially since officials of Saudi Arabia were allowed free access both into and out of the consulate without any hindrance even after the disappearance of Khashoggi.
The reason behind Saudi reluctance to let forensic experts enter the consulate remains dubious. The team was finally allowed to enter reportedly after Turkish President Recep Erdogan had a call with King Salman and both agreed to form a joint investigation team.
The Global Reaction
US President Donald Trump has hypothesized that the disappearance of Khashoggi could be the work of rogue agents, who may have executed Khashoggi. But many have seen this as a way of offering the Kingdom an easy escape from accepting any responsibility of the incident.
The US President cannot afford to severe ties with the Kingdom considering the US depends on its oil supply, especially after oil sanctions were reinstated on Iran since the US’ withdrawal of the nuclear deal signed between Iran and other global powers.
However the absence of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman from all of these discussions has fueled the global firestorm whereby widespread suggestions are being made that the ruling Al Saud family is somehow involved in the incident.
Investors from around the world, who were responding to the call made by Prince Mohammad to invest in the Kingdom are now wary of the way forward, with many backing out of their scheduled appearance at the Future Investment Initiative conference to be held in Riyadh in the near future.
Difficult to Conduct Business with Saudi Arabia
According to Branson, the events surrounding the disappearance of Khashoggi place a big question mark on whether business can further be conducted with Saudi Arabia. Of course, until the allegations are proven to be either true or false, no definitive action will be taken by Virgin Group.
In addition to pausing the Saudi investment, Branson has also made it a point to dissociate himself from other Saudi-linked ventures such as suspending his directorship from two of the tourism projects operated by the country in the Red Sea vicinity.
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