London (AFP) – British entrepreneur Richard Branson is suspending two directorships linked to tourism projects in Saudi Arabia following the unexplained disappearance in Turkey of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In a statement late Thursday, Branson said also that his Virgin group would suspend discussions with Saudi Arabia over proposed investment in Virgin Galactic, which is set to carry out its first space flight within weeks.
“I had high hopes for the current government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and it is why I was delighted to accept two directorships in the tourism projects around the Red Sea,” Branson said in the statement posted on the Virgin website.
“I felt that I could give practical development advice and also help protect the precious environment around the coastline and islands.”
But 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.
“We have asked for more information from the authorities in Saudi and to clarify their position in relation to Mr Khashoggi.
“While those investigations are ongoing and Mr Khashoggi’s whereabouts are 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,” Branson added.
In comments Tuesday, Branson said he expected his Virgin Galactic company to conduct its first space flight “within weeks, not months”.