In a strongly worded statement released on Friday, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson announced that he would be resigning from his tourism posts with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia because of concerns over the government’s alleged involvement in the disappearance of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
Virgin Group is taking immediate and concrete steps to dissolve business dealings with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the wake of allegations that the government was responsible for the murder and dismemberment of a Washington Post journalist. In a stern statement, company founder Sir Richard Branson announced that Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit would end partnership negotiations with the Saudi government. Branson also said that he would step down as director of two Saudi-backed tourism initiatives.
“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,” Branson wrote. “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.”
Officials in Turkey have indicated they have evidence that the journalist and exiled Saudi dissident was murdered in Turkey by Saudi agents who then dismembered his body. Khashoggi was last seen in public on Tuesday, October 2 just before entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. His fiancee, who waited outside of the consulate while the 59-year-old was inside obtaining documents for their upcoming nuptials, reports that he never left the building again. Authorities in Saudi Arabia have denied any involvement in the alleged abduction and murder plot, but have promised to investigate. Meanwhile, authorities in Turkey and the United States have also pledged to launch investigations of their own.
“While those investigations are ongoing and Mr Khashoggi’s whereabouts are not known, I will suspend my directorships of the two tourism projects,” Branson concluded. “Virgin will also suspend its discussions with the Public Investment Fund over the proposed investment in our space companies Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.”
Business leaders, including Branson have been quick to distance themselves from the Saudi royal family in the aftermath of the recent allegations. Uber, The New York Times, Viacom and CNN have all pulled out of the upcoming Future Investment Initiative summit, embarrassing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and leading some in the government to call for the Saudis to impose sanctions on companies who are starting to sever ties with the kingdom.
World leaders have been slightly more cautious about punishing the kingdom for the alleged actions in Turkey. On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump suggested that the possible murder plot may have been perpetrated by “rogue killers.” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says he still plans to attend the Future Investment Initiative summit as scheduled.