Virgin’s founder Richard Branson has recently announced to freeze business ties with Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of a prominent journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
Last year, Saudi Arabia proposed to invest $1 billion into Virgin Galactic, a spaceflight company within the Virgin group which deals with space tourism. The billionaire business magnate announced in a recent statement that he accepted two directorships in the tourism projects around the Red Sea, per CNBC.
Branson said that he accepted the proposal because he thought that he could provide practical development advice regarding the project and assist in the protection of the environment around the coastline and islands.
However, because of the mounting international concern regarding the disappearance of the journalist, Branson decided to halt the talks.
Khashoggi was a well-known Saudi Arabian journalist and a columnist with the Washington Post, who was famous for being critical of the Saudi government.
The journalist mysteriously disappeared after he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and upon investigation, Turkish authorities suspected that the journalist was murdered inside the consulate.
Saudi Arabia has denied the allegations and said that it is searching for the journalist, per an earlier report by the Inquisitr.
In an official statement, the Virgin Group founder wrote that he had “high hopes” for the current Saudi government because of the Kingdom’s new leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but the disappearance of the journalist has sparked serious concerns. Branson said.
“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.”
Branson further added that although investigations into Khashoggi’s disappearance are ongoing, Virgin will suspend discussions regarding the investment. He did not indicate whether the talks will resume in the future.
Jamal Khashoggi, 59, was previously a supporter of the Saudi regime but had been in self-imposed exile in the U.S. where he started writing columns criticizing the current regime. He fled the kingdom last year because of fear of being arrested, per Reporters Without Borders.
According to the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index 2018, some 30 professional and non-professional journalists are currently detained by Saudi Arabia for their critical stance against the government.
In terms of press freedom, Saudi Arabia ranks 169th out of 180 countries, per the Press Freedom Index.