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).
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.
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.
I was looking forward to returning to Riyadh this month to speak at the Future Investment Initiative conference, and participate in a Red Sea Project meeting. In light of recent events, I have decided to put my plans on hold, pending further information regarding Jamal Khashoggi.— Steve Case (@SteveCase) October 11, 2018
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."
CNN has withdrawn its participation in the Saudi Future Investment Initiative Conference.— CNN Communications (@CNNPR) October 12, 2018
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.