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Virgin’s Branson halts talks on $1 bn Saudi investment in space ventures

British billionaire Richard Branson
British billionaire Richard Branson in April 2010 [INMA/Jarle Naustvik]

British billionaire Richard Branson said on Thursday that his Virgin Group would suspend its discussions with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund over a planned $1 billion investment in the group’s space ventures, in light of the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Reuters reports.

“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,” Branson said in a statement.

Branson also said he would suspend his directorship in two Saudi tourism projects around the Red Sea, citing Khashoggi’s disappearance. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Pressure has mounted on Saudi Arabia since 2 October  when Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Saudi policies and a Washington Post journalist, went missing. He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

OPINION: The disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi and the Israel-Saudi alliance

Last year, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund said it planned to invest about $1 billion in Branson’s space company, Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit.

Branson said on Thursday, “We have asked for more information from the authorities in Saudi and to clarify their position in relation to Mr. Khashoggi.”

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that the United States has investigators overseas to assist Turkey in its investigation of the journalist’s disappearance and that they were also working with Saudi Arabia.

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