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Journalist Disappearance Row: Companies, Media Pull Out of Saudi-Sponsored Event

© AP Photo / Virginia MayoSaudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks on his cellphone at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Khashoggi was a Saudi insider. He rubbed shoulders with the Saudi royal family and supported its efforts to nudge the entrenched ultraconservative clerics to accept reforms. He was a close aide to the kingdom’s former spy chief and was a leading voice in the country’s prominent dailies
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks on his cellphone at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Khashoggi was a Saudi insider. He rubbed shoulders with the Saudi royal family and supported its efforts to nudge the entrenched ultraconservative clerics to accept reforms. He was a close aide to the kingdom’s former spy chief and was a leading voice in the country’s prominent dailies - Sputnik International
Turkey has accused Saudi Arabia of detaining and murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Riyadh has denied the accusations and claimed he left it safe and sound. Saudi Arabia has even provided access to the country’s consulate for investigators to prove its innocence.

Following the news about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the accusations against Riyadh of murdering him in its consulate in Istanbul, several media outlets and companies have announced their withdrawal from a major event to be held by the Saudis on October 23-25 — the Future Investment Initiative (FII).

Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh with the 'Kingdom Tower' - Sputnik International
Turkey Launches Probe Into Disappearance of Saudi Journalist - Reports

A Saudi conference spokesperson expressed regret regarding the decision of many of the speakers and partners to withdraw from the event, calling it "disappointing."

President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, will not be attending the conference, according to anonymous sources within organization, cited by Reuters. The change of plans was reportedly made due to a scheduling conflict with the event's timing. The sources didn't mention if it was connected to the missing journalist.

Andrew Ross Sorkin, a New York Times columnist and CNBC anchor, announced via his Twitter that he has decided to skip the event. He said he was "terribly distressed" by the news of Khashoggi's disappearance and reports of his murder. Moreover, The New York Times has announced that it has terminated its status as a media sponsor for the conference. A Bloomberg spokesman also stated on October 12 that it has decided to withdraw from the event as a media partner.

READ MORE: Turkey Accepts Saudi Aid to Probe Into Missing Journalist — Reports

Patrick Soon-Shiong, publisher of The Los Angeles Times also notified that he would not be attending the Saudi event. He was joined by The Economist's editor Zanny Minton Beddoes, who also announced she would not be participating in the Future Investment Initiative.

Steve Case, a co-founder of America Online and chairman of the investment firm Revolution, stated via his Twitter account that despite his willingness to attend the event, he would not do so in light of the alleged murder of the Saudi journalist.

CNN, via its official Twitter page, has also announced that it would be pulling out of the conference without specifying the reason for the decision. The network was joined by the Financial Times, after its editor, Lionel Barber, said in a statement that while Khashoggi's disappearance remains unexplained, the media outlet "will not be partnering with the FII conference in Riyadh."

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish has also announced that he will not be participating in the Future Investment Initiative conference.

Companies Who Remain Undecided

Some companies, however, remain on the fence about attending the FII. In an interview with NBC News, a Fox Business spokesperson said that the company is currently reviewing its attendance at the conference. A Bloomberg spokesperson has stated they are keeping tabs on the situation, but at present the company's CEO Justin Smith shall be in attendance.

A poster of missing Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, on a barrier that blocks the road leading to the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul. - Sputnik International
Turkey Claims it Possesses Video Proving Jamal Khashoggi Was Killed - Report

On October 11, a CNBC spokesperson said that the company is also "monitoring the situation"  over the journalist's disappearance. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has also stated that it is possible he will ignore this year's conference over the public accusations against Riyadh. The CEO was expected to give a speech at the conference.

At the same time, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in an interview with CNBC that his plans to attend the event in Saudi Arabia stand at the moment, but he noted that if "more information comes," his decision may be reviewed.

READ MORE: Macron to Talk to Turkish President, Saudi Crown Prince About Missing Journo

Robin Zimmermann, a Siemens spokesman, has said that the attendance of the company's CEO Joe Kaeser is not in question at the moment, but added that Siemens is "watching the situation very closely."

Western Companies Putting Ties With Riyadh on Hold

The scandal over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi has affected not only the upcoming Saudi conference, but also the country's ties with prospective partners. According to the Financial Times, British entrepreneur Richard Branson has put his talks with the Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund over financing the Virgin Galactic space program on hold.

British entrepreneur Richard Branson poses with SpaceShipTwo at a Virgin Galactic hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif. - Sputnik International
Virgin Group Suspends Talks With Saudis About Planned $1Bln Investment - Reports

He has reportedly requested additional information from the Saudi government about the journalist's disappearance. The tycoon warned that the incident might affect all western companies wanting to do business with Riyadh.

Apart from Branson, Sam Altman the president of startup incubator, Y Combinator that helped Airbnb and other companies get their businesses up and running, also announced that he would be suspending his involvement in a Saudi mega-city project known as NEOM. He added that the final decision on his participation in the project would be made after the investigation into the incident with Khashoggi is concluded.

What is Known About the Incident So Far

Riyadh denies the accusations of murdering Jamal Khashoggi, who entered the Istanbul Consulate on October 2 and hasn't been seen since. Saudi Arabia claims he left the building unharmed and has provided access to a group of investigators to search its consulate to prove he was not murdered on its premises.

Turkish police barriers block the road leading to the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018 - Sputnik International
Saudi Delegation Arrives in Ankara for Probe Into Missing Journalist - Reports

Turkey has launched a probe into the Saudi journalist's disappearance. Moreover, it has reportedly agreed to accept Saudi Arabia's proposal of forming a joint commission to solve the case.

READ MORE: UK Warns Saudi Arabia of 'Serious Consequences' if Khashoggi Suspicions True

However, according to a report by The Washington Post, Ankara notified US officials that it allegedly possesses audio and video confirmation that Khashoggi was detained by the Saudi consulate's staff, killed and dismembered. The media outlet also reported that Turkey hasn't released the recording for fear of its spying methods being exposed.

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