“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 the statement.
Branson said he has asked Saudi authorities “to clarify their position in relation to Mr Khashoggi.”
“While those investigations are ongoing and Mr Khashoggi’s presence is not known, I will suspend my directorships of the two tourism projects. Virgin will also suspend its discussions with the Public Investment Fund over the proposed investment in our space companies Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit,” he said.
Branson’s move comes as international pressure mounts on Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist, contributor to the Washington Post and critic of the Saudi regime.
The United States has intercepts of Saudi officials discussing a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him, according to a US official familiar with the intelligence.
Khashoggi’s disappearance has prompted media companies to reconsider their association with a high-profile business conference in Saudi Arabia scheduled for later this month. The conference, hosted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is part of his Vision 2030 plan to break the country’s dependence on oil.
Zanny Minton Beddoes, the editor-in-chief of The Economist, will also no longer speak at the event, a spokesperson told CNN Business. Los Angeles Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who had been scheduled to speak at the conference, will not be attending the event either, according to a spokesman for the newspaper.
Journalists from CNN, Fox Business Network, CNBC and the New York Times are listed as moderators for the event.
A CNN spokesperson said the network was “evaluating our participation in the conference.” Fox Business Network, Bloomberg and CNBC are monitoring the situation, according to spokespeople for the networks.