Jamal Khashoggi: Richard Branson and Uber CEO suspend ties with Saudi Arabia

The Washington Post columnist, who is a vocal critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has not been seen since he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to pick up a document for his upcoming wedding.

Officials in Turkey claim to have evidence that the 59-year-old was murdered, and Riyadh has come under increased scrutiny from Western allies seeking to get to the bottom of what happened.

Now – ahead of a marquee conference the kingdom had hoped would attract major overseas investment – several prominent figures have said they will not be attending.

Sir Richard has announced he will suspend his role as director in two Saudi tourism projects until the fate of Mr Khashoggi is uncovered.

In a statement, the Virgin Group founder said he will also put talks on hold over a proposed investment from the kingdom in his space companies Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

He added: “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.”

Mr Khosrowshahi was due speak at the Future Investment Initiative conference, which starts on 23 October, but he has said he will not attend “unless a substantially different set of facts emerges” about the disappearance.

The Financial Times and CNN have both cancelled their media partnerships with the event, and The New York Times and CNBC have pulled out of panels they had planned to attend.

Each of the withdrawals will come as a major blow for the crown prince, who has sought to position Saudi Arabia as a larger, more modern power on the global stage since he took the throne.

His ambitious Saudi Vision 2030 project aims to reduce its dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and develop healthcare, education, infrastructure and tourism, but is highly reliant on support from abroad.

The setbacks for the upcoming conference come amid reports that the Turkish government has told US officials it has audio and video proof that Mr Khashoggi was tortured, killed and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate.

According to The Washington Post, citing anonymous officials, the recordings show that a Saudi security team detained the writer during his visit to the consulate.

The newspaper claims that they contain evidence that Mr Khashoggi was interrogated and beaten before his death.

Turkey has already gone on the record in claiming that he was killed, and have published images of an alleged “assassination squad” and movements around the building at the time of the disappearance on 2 October.

Saudi Arabia has dismissed the allegations as “baseless”, but has offered no evidence to support its claim that the journalist left the consulate and vanished despite his fiancee, Hatice Cengzig, waiting outside.

The oil-rich Gulf state has agreed to form a joint committee with Turkey to investigate what happened to him, having come under pressure from US President Donald Trump and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

A Saudi spokesman said the kingdom had “complete confidence in the capacity of the team” to “uncover the circumstances of the disappearance”, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported.

Mr Trump has said the US is being “very tough” in its bid to get to the bottom of the disappearance, and Mr Hunt has said the UK government is “extremely worried” about the situation.

The US president has also invited Mr Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, to meet him in the Oval Office, but has been reluctant to criticise the Saudi regime, describing their relationship as “excellent”.

He has continuously endorsed the crown prince despite human rights organisations expressing serious concerns over the imprisonment and persecution of dissidents, and the ongoing bombing of Yemen.

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